Effects of intranasal oxytocin and vasopressin on cooperative behavior and associated brain activity in men

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Apr;37(4):447-61. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.07.013. Epub 2011 Aug 12.


The neural mechanisms supporting social bonds between adult men remain uncertain. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we investigate the impact of intranasally administered oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) on behavior and brain activity among men in the context of an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game, which models a real-life social situation. fMRI results show that, relative to both AVP and placebo, OT increases the caudate nucleus response to reciprocated cooperation, which may augment the reward of reciprocated cooperation and/or facilitate learning that another person can be trusted. OT also enhances left amygdala activation in response to reciprocated cooperation. Behaviorally, OT was associated with increased rates of cooperation following unreciprocated cooperation in the previous round compared with AVP. AVP strongly increased cooperation in response to a cooperative gesture by the partner compared with both placebo and OT. In response to reciprocated cooperation, AVP increased activation in a region spanning known vasopressin circuitry implicated in affiliative behaviors in other species. Finally, both OT and AVP increase amygdala functional connectivity with the anterior insula relative to placebo, which may increase the amygdala's ability to elicit visceral somatic markers that guide decision making. These findings extend our knowledge of the neural and behavioral effects of OT and AVP to the context of genuine social interactions.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Arginine Vasopressin / administration & dosage
  • Arginine Vasopressin / blood
  • Arginine Vasopressin / pharmacology*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods
  • Functional Neuroimaging / psychology*
  • Game Theory
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology
  • Male
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / blood
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Young Adult


  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin