The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is suggested to exert a pivotal role in a variety of complex human behaviors, including trust, attachment, social perception and fear regulation. Previous studies have demonstrated that intranasal administration of OT reduces subjective and neuroendocrine stress responses and dampens amygdala reactivity. OT has also been proposed to modulate activity of the autonomic nervous system. Here, a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study (with parallel design) was conducted with 56 healthy adult men to investigate whether a single-dose of OT (24 IU) modulates sympathetic autonomic arousal upon live dyadic gaze interactions. To do so, electrodermal recordings of skin conductance were performed during the engagement of eye contact with a live model in a two-person social context. In accordance to prior research, direct eye gaze elicited a significant enhancement in skin conductance responses, but OT did not specifically enhance or dampen the overall magnitude (amplitude) of the skin conductance response. Administration of OT did facilitate the recovery of skin conductance responses back to baseline (reduced recovery time), indicating a role of OT in restoring homeostatic balance. Notably, the treatment-effect on autonomic recovery was most prominent in participants with low self-reported social responsiveness, indicating that person-dependent factors play an important role in determining OT treatment-responses. Exploratory, it was shown that OT also significantly reduced self-reported feelings of tension and (at trend-level) worrying about how one presents oneself. Together, these observations add further evidence to a role of OT in modulating activity of the autonomic nervous system, primarily by facilitating a restoration of homeostatic balance after stimulus-induced increases in sympathetically-driven autonomic arousal.
Keywords: Arousal, eye contact; Autonomic nervous system; Oxytocin; Skin conductance.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.