Intranasal oxytocin, social cognition and neurodevelopmental disorders: A meta-analysis

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Jan;87:9-19. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.09.022. Epub 2017 Oct 8.


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.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal / methods
  • Administration, Intranasal / psychology
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Empathy / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology*
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Skills
  • Theory of Mind / drug effects


  • Oxytocin