Oxytocin and Social Adaptation: Insights from Neuroimaging Studies of Healthy and Clinical Populations

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Feb;20(2):133-145. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.009. Epub 2015 Nov 23.


Adaptation to the social environment is critical for human survival. The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT), implicated in social cognition and emotions pivotal to sociality and well-being, is a promising pharmacological target for social and emotional dysfunction. We suggest here that the multifaceted role of OT in socio-affective processes improves the capability for social adaptation. We review OT effects on socio-affective processes, with a focus on OT-neuroimaging studies, to elucidate neuropsychological mechanisms through which OT promotes social adaptation. We also review OT-neuroimaging studies of individuals with social deficits and suggest that OT ameliorates impaired social adaptation by normalizing hyper- or hypo-brain activity. The social adaption model (SAM) provides an integrative understanding of discrepant OT effects and the modulations of OT action by personal milieu and context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Oxytocin