Oxytocin modulates amygdala, insula, and inferior frontal gyrus responses to infant crying: a randomized controlled trial

Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug 1;70(3):291-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.02.006. Epub 2011 Apr 5.


Background: Oxytocin facilitates parental caregiving and mother-infant bonding and might be involved in responses to infant crying. Infant crying provides information about the physical status and mood of the infant and elicits parental proximity and caregiving. Oxytocin might modulate the activation of brain structures involved in the perception of cry sounds-specifically the insula, the amygdala, and the thalamocingulate circuit-and thereby affect responsiveness to infant crying.

Method: In a randomized controlled trial we investigated the influence of intranasally administered oxytocin on neural responses to infant crying with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Blood oxygenation level-dependent responses to infant crying were measured in 21 women who were administered oxytocin and 21 women who were administered a placebo.

Results: Induced oxytocin levels reduced, experimentally, activation in the amygdala and increased activation in the insula and inferior frontal gyrus pars triangularis.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that oxytocin promotes responsiveness to infant crying by reducing activation in the neural circuitry for anxiety and aversion and increasing activation in regions involved in empathy.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / drug effects*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Crying / physiology*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / drug effects*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*


  • Oxytocin