Oxytocin and vasopressin flatten dominance hierarchy and enhance behavioral synchrony in part via anterior cingulate cortex

Sci Rep. 2018 May 29;8(1):8201. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-25607-1.


The neuropeptides oxytocin (OT) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) influence social functions in many mammals. In humans and rhesus macaques, OT delivered intranasally can promote prosocial behavior in certain contexts. Yet the precise neural mechanisms mediating these behavioral effects remain unclear. Here we show that treating a group of male macaque monkeys intranasally with aerosolized OT relaxes their spontaneous social interactions with other monkeys. OT reduces differences in social behavior between dominant and subordinate monkeys, thereby flattening the status hierarchy. OT also increases behavioral synchrony within a pair. Intranasal delivery of aerosolized AVP reproduces the effects of OT with greater efficacy. Remarkably, all behavioral effects are replicated when OT or AVP is injected focally into the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg), a brain area linked to empathy and other-regarding behavior. ACCg lacks OT receptors but is rich in AVP receptors, suggesting exogenous OT may shape social behavior, in part, via nonspecific binding. Notably, OT and AVP alter behaviors of both the treated monkey and his untreated partner, consistent with enhanced feedback through reciprocal social interactions. These findings bear important implications for use of OT in both basic research and as a therapy for social impairments in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / administration & dosage
  • Arginine Vasopressin / metabolism*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Social Dominance


  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin