Sniffing submissiveness? Oxytocin administration in severe psychopathy

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2021 Sep:131:105330. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2021.105330. Epub 2021 Jun 18.


Psychopathy is a personality disorder associated with criminal behavior and violent recidivism, and therefore a burden to society. Social dominance is one of the characteristics of psychopathy that might contribute to these problems. Nevertheless, only few studies have objectively measured the relationship between socially dominant behavior and psychopathy. Therefore, the current study assessed performance of 21 forensic PCL-R confirmed psychopathic patients and 24 normal controls on a gaze aversion task, in which slower gaze aversion from masked angry faces compared to masked happy faces is a measure of reactive dominance. Moreover, the current study assessed the potential beneficial effects of the neuropeptide oxytocin. The results showed that psychopaths were not more dominant on the gaze aversion task compared to normal controls. However, the severity of psychopathy was positively correlated with reactive dominance. Crucially, a single nasal spray administration of oxytocin abolished the connection between psychopathy and reactive dominance. This implies that socially dominant psychopaths might benefit from oxytocin administration.

Keywords: Gaze aversion; Oxytocin; PCL-R; Psychopathy; Reactive dominance.

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / psychology
  • Dominance-Subordination
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin* / administration & dosage
  • Patient Acuity


  • Oxytocin