Intranasal oxytocin attenuates the human acoustic startle response independent of emotional modulation

Psychophysiology. 2014 Nov;51(11):1169-77. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12263. Epub 2014 Aug 1.


Oxytocin promotes social affiliation in humans. However, the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon require further elucidation. The present study investigated the influence of intranasal oxytocin on basic emotional processing in men and women, using an emotion-modulated startle response paradigm. Eighty-four participants self-administered 24 IU of intranasal oxytocin or saline and completed an assessment of the acoustic startle reflex, using electromyography (EMG), with varying emotional foregrounds. Oxytocin had no impact on the affective modulation of the startle eye blink response, but significantly diminished the acoustic startle reflex irrespective of the emotional foreground. The results suggest that oxytocin facilitates prosocial behavior, in part, by attenuating basic physiological arousal. The dampening effect of oxytocin on EMG startle could possibly be used as an inexpensive marker of oxytocin's effect on limbic brain circuits.

Keywords: Electromyography; Emotional pictures; Intranasal administration; Oxytocin; Startle reflex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Electromyography / drug effects*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Reflex, Startle / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxytocin