The biological mechanisms underlying empathy, the ability to recognize emotions and to respond to them appropriately, are only recently becoming better understood. This report focuses on the nonapeptide arginine-vasopressin (AVP), which plays an important role in modulating social behavior in animals, especially promoting aggressive behavior. Towards clarifying the role of AVP in human social perception we used the Reading of the Mind in the Eyes Test and intranasal administration of AVP to show that AVP leads to a significant decrease in emotion recognition. Moreover, when comparing photos of males vs. females, all viewed by males, AVP had an effect on gender-matched photos only. Furthermore, the effect of AVP was restricted to recognition of negative emotions while leaving recognition of positive emotions unaffected. The current report emphasizes the selective role of AVP in male emotional perception and empathy, a core element in all human social interactions.
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