Intranasal oxytocin reduces social perception in women: Neural activation and individual variation

Neuroimage. 2017 Feb 15;147:314-329. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.12.046. Epub 2016 Dec 16.


Most intranasal oxytocin research to date has been carried out in men, but recent studies indicate that females' responses can differ substantially from males'. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved an all-female sample of 28 women not using hormonal contraception. Participants viewed animations of geometric shapes depicting either random movement or social interactions such as playing, chasing, or fighting. Probe questions asked whether any shapes were "friends" or "not friends." Social videos were preceded by cues to attend to either social relationships or physical size changes. All subjects received intranasal placebo spray at scan 1. While the experimenter was not blinded to nasal spray contents at Scan 1, the participants were. Scan 2 followed a randomized, double-blind design. At scan 2, half received a second placebo dose while the other half received 24 IU of intranasal oxytocin. We measured neural responses to these animations at baseline, as well as the change in neural activity induced by oxytocin. Oxytocin reduced activation in early visual cortex and dorsal-stream motion processing regions for the social > size contrast, indicating reduced activity related to social attention. Oxytocin also reduced endorsements that shapes were "friends" or "not friends," and this significantly correlated with reduction in neural activation. Furthermore, participants who perceived fewer social relationships at baseline were more likely to show oxytocin-induced increases in a broad network of regions involved in social perception and social cognition, suggesting that lower social processing at baseline may predict more positive neural responses to oxytocin.

Keywords: Animacy; Individual variation; Oxytocin; Sex differences; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Brain* / anatomy & histology
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / administration & dosage
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Visual Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Cortex / drug effects
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Pathways / drug effects
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Oxytocin