Oxytonergic circuitry sustains and enables creative cognition in humans

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Aug;9(8):1159-65. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst094. Epub 2013 Jul 16.


Creativity enables humans to adapt flexibly to changing circumstances, to manage complex social relations and to survive and prosper through social, technological and medical innovations. In humans, chronic, trait-based as well as temporary, state-based approach orientation has been linked to increased capacity for divergent rather than convergent thinking, to more global and holistic processing styles and to more original ideation and creative problem solving. Here, we link creative cognition to oxytocin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide known to up-regulate approach orientation in both animals and humans. Study 1 (N = 492) showed that plasma oxytocin predicts novelty-seeking temperament. Study 2 (N = 110) revealed that genotype differences in a polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene rs1042778 predicted creative ideation, with GG/GT-carriers being more original than TT-carriers. Using double-blind placebo-controlled between-subjects designs, Studies 3-6 (N = 191) finally showed that intranasal oxytocin (vs matching placebo) reduced analytical reasoning, and increased holistic processing, divergent thinking and creative performance. We conclude that the oxytonergic circuitry sustains and enables the day-to-day creativity humans need for survival and prosperity and discuss implications.

Keywords: creative cognition; divergent thinking; neurohormones; oxytocin; polymorphism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Creativity*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Genotyping Techniques
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • OXTR protein, human
  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin