Oxytocin, motivation and the role of dopamine

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2014 Apr;119:49-60. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2013.06.011. Epub 2013 Jul 9.


The hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin has drawn the attention of scientists for more than a century. The understanding of the function of oxytocin has expanded dramatically over the years from a simple peptide adept at inducing uterine contractions and milk ejection to a complex neuromodulator with a capacity to shape human social behavior. Decades of research have outlined oxytocin's ability to enhance intricate social activities ranging from pair bonding, sexual activity, affiliative preferences, and parental behaviors. The precise neural mechanisms underlying oxytocin's influence on such behaviors have just begun to be understood. Research suggests that oxytocin interacts closely with the neural pathways responsible for processing motivationally relevant stimuli. In particular, oxytocin appears to impact dopaminergic activity within the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system, which is crucial not only for reward and motivated behavior but also for the expression of affiliative behaviors. Though most of the work performed in this area has been done using animal models, several neuroimaging studies suggest similar relationships may be observed in humans. In order to introduce this topic further, this paper will review the recent evidence that oxytocin may exert some of its social-behavioral effects through its impact on motivational networks.

Keywords: Dopamine; Motivation; Oxytocin; Salience; Valence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Social Behavior


  • Oxytocin
  • Dopamine