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Randomized Controlled Trial
. 2013 Dec 10;110(50):20308-13.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314190110. Epub 2013 Nov 25.

Oxytocin Enhances Brain Reward System Responses in Men Viewing the Face of Their Female Partner

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Free PMC article
Randomized Controlled Trial

Oxytocin Enhances Brain Reward System Responses in Men Viewing the Face of Their Female Partner

Dirk Scheele et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

The biological mechanisms underlying long-term partner bonds in humans are unclear. The evolutionarily conserved neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) is associated with the formation of partner bonds in some species via interactions with brain dopamine reward systems. However, whether it plays a similar role in humans has as yet not been established. Here, we report the results of a discovery and a replication study, each involving a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject, pharmaco-functional MRI experiment with 20 heterosexual pair-bonded male volunteers. In both experiments, intranasal OXT treatment (24 IU) made subjects perceive their female partner's face as more attractive compared with unfamiliar women but had no effect on the attractiveness of other familiar women. This enhanced positive partner bias was paralleled by an increased response to partner stimuli compared with unfamiliar women in brain reward regions including the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). In the left NAcc, OXT even augmented the neural response to the partner compared with a familiar woman, indicating that this finding is partner-bond specific rather than due to familiarity. Taken together, our results suggest that OXT could contribute to romantic bonds in men by enhancing their partner's attractiveness and reward value compared with other women.

Keywords: emotion; functional imaging; love; monogamy.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
OXT effects on partner judgments. Both in the DSC (A) and RPL (C) study, the intranasal administration of OXT significantly increased the positive partner bias for attractiveness. This bias was positively correlated with Eros (a romantic love style) in the DSC (B) and RPL (D) study. Error bars indicate SEM. AR, arousal; AT, attractiveness; DSC, discovery; OXT, oxytocin; PLC, placebo; RPL, replication; *P < 0.05.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
OXT effects on NAcc responses. Both in the DSC (A) and RPL (B) study, the intranasal administration of OXT increased NAcc response to the female partner's face compared with a matched, but unfamiliar woman (OXT(Partner > Unfamiliar) > PLC(Partner > Unfamiliar); DSC: left peak MNI coordinates −6, 5, −5; t(114) = 3.22, PFWE < 0.01; right peak MNI coordinates 6, 2, −2; t(114) = 3.70, PFWE < 0.01; RPL: left peak MNI coordinates −9, 5, 1; t(152) = 2.40, PFWE = 0.052; right peak MNI coordinates 12, 2, 1; t(152) = 2.48, PFWE = 0.04; display threshold P < 0.05 uncorrected). Percent signal change in the bilateral NAcc showed the greatest response to the mate after OXT administration. Error bars indicate SEM. DSC, discovery; L, left hemisphere; NAcc, nucleus accumbens; OXT, oxytocin; PLC, placebo; R, right hemisphere; RPC, replication.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
OXT effects on VTA responses. Both in the DSC (A) and RPL (B) study, the intranasal administration of OXT increased neural responses in the VTA to the face of the female partner compared with a matched, but unfamiliar woman (OXT(Partner > Unfamiliar) > PLC(Partner > Unfamiliar); DSC: left peak MNI coordinates −6, −10, −5; t(114) = 2.56, PFWE = 0.03; right peak MNI coordinates 0, −10, −5; t(114) = 2.33, PFWE = 0.051; RPL: left peak MNI coordinates 0, −16, −8; t(152) = 1.93, PFWE = 0.12; right peak MNI coordinates 6, −13, −5; t(152) = 2.89, PFWE = 0.02; display threshold P < 0.05 uncorrected). Analyses of percent signal change in the bilateral VTA showed the greatest response to the mate after OXT administration. Error bars indicate SEM. DSC, discovery; L, left hemisphere; OXT, oxytocin; PLC, placebo; R, right hemisphere; RPC, replication; VTA, ventral tegmental area.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
OXT effects on responses to the partner compared with a familiar woman. OXT increased the response to the female partner’s face compared with a highly familiar woman in the left NAcc (A; peak MNI coordinates −9, 5, 1; t(152) = 2.73, PFWE = 0.02), right putamen (B; peak MNI coordinates 27, −19, 7; t(152) = 3.65, PFWE < 0.01), and right globus pallidus (C; peak MNI coordinates 24, −7, −5; t(152) = 2.46, PFWE = 0.04, display threshold P < 0.05 uncorrected). Error bars indicate SEM. DSC, discovery; L, left hemisphere; NAcc, nucleus accumbens; OXT, oxytocin; PLC, placebo; R, right hemisphere.

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