Deficits in social cognition are pervasive and characteristic of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Clinical trials of intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) to improve social cognition have yielded inconclusive results. The current study is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) considering the effect of IN-OT on social cognitive domains across a range of NDDs. Medline, PsychINFO and Scopus were searched for RCTs published through to July 25, 2017. Seventeen studies met inclusion criteria, comprising 466 participants with a NDD. Meta-analysis using a random-effects model, revealed that IN-OT had no significant effect on emotion recognition (Hedges' g=0.08), a moderate but non-significant effect on empathy (Hedges' g=0.49), and a small, significant effect on theory of mind (ToM) (Hedges' g=0.21). Meta-regression indicated that the effect of IN-OT on social cognition was not moderated by the diagnosis or age of participants, or the dose or frequency of IN-OT administration. The results highlight a need for more well-designed RCTs, as it remains difficult to draw conclusions about the potential for IN-OT to improve social cognition in NDDs. The promise of IN-OT should be considered tentative.
Keywords: Autism; Intranasal; Neurodevelopmental disorder; Oxytocin; Schizophrenia; Social cognition.
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