Divergent effects of oxytocin on "mind-reading" in healthy males

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2022 Feb;22(1):112-122. doi: 10.3758/s13415-021-00936-3. Epub 2021 Sep 13.


The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has been associated with a broad range of human behaviors, particularly in the domain of social cognition, and is being discussed to play a role in a range of psychiatric disorders. Studies using the Reading The Mind In The Eyes Test (RMET) to investigate the role of OT in mental state recognition reported inconsistent outcomes. The present study applied a randomized, double-blind, cross-over design, and included measures of serum OT. Twenty healthy males received intranasal placebo or OT (24 IU) before performing the RMET. Frequentist and Bayesian analyses showed that contrary to previous studies (Domes et al., 2007; Radke & de Bruijn, 2015), individuals performed worse in the OT condition compared to the placebo condition (p = 0.023, Cohen's d = 0.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] [0.08, 1.02], BF10 = 6.93). OT effects did not depend on item characteristics (difficulty, valence, intensity, sex) of the RMET. Furthermore, OT serum levels did not change after intranasal OT administration. Given that similar study designs lead to heterogeneous outcomes, our results highlight the complexity of OT effects and support evidence that OT might even interfere with social cognitive abilities. However, the Bayesian analysis approach shows that there is only moderate evidence that OT influences mind-reading, highlighting the need for larger-scale studies considering the discussed aspects that might have led to divergent study results.

Keywords: Oxytocin; RMET; Social cognition; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxytocin* / pharmacology


  • Oxytocin