Social effects of oxytocin in humans: context and person matter

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jul;15(7):301-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Building on animal research, the past decade has witnessed a surge of interest in the effects of oxytocin on social cognition and prosocial behavior in humans. This work has generated considerable excitement about identifying the neurochemical underpinnings of sociality in humans, and discovering compounds to treat social functioning deficits. Inspection of the literature, however, reveals that the effects of oxytocin in the social domain are often weak and/or inconsistent. We propose that this literature can be informed by an interactionist approach in which the effects of oxytocin are constrained by features of situations and/or individuals. We show how this approach can improve understanding of extant research, suggest novel mechanisms through which oxytocin might operate, and refine predictions about oxytocin pharmacotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin* / metabolism
  • Oxytocin* / pharmacology
  • Oxytocin* / therapeutic use
  • Social Behavior*


  • Oxytocin