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Intranasal oxytocin enhances approach-related EEG frontal alpha asymmetry during engagement of direct eye contact

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

The neuropeptide oxytocin is suggested to play a major role in a variety of complex human behaviors, including interpersonal bonding, trust, and attachment. Recent theories have suggested that the role oxytocin plays in these complex social behaviors involves a modulation of motivational tendencies of approach/avoidance-related behaviors. However, to date, direct neurophysiological evidence supporting this notion is limited. In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study with parallel design, we assessed the effects of administered intranasal oxytocin in 40 adult men on gaze behavior and a neural marker of approach/avoidance motivational tendencies. Specifically, electroencephalography recordings were performed during the engagement of eye contact with a live model in a naturalistic two-person social context and electroencephalographic frontal alpha asymmetry, an established neurophysiological index of motivational tendencies for approach/avoidance-related behaviors, was assessed. Compared to placebo, a single dose of oxytocin (24 international units) was shown to increase relative left-sided frontal asymmetry upon direct eye contact with a live model, which is indicative of an increase in approach-related motivational tendencies towards the presented eye contact stimulus. Notably, the treatment effect was most prominently observed in participants with lower self-reported social motivation (higher Motivation subscale scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale), indicating that participants with lower social motivation benefitted the most from the administered oxytocin. No treatment-specific changes were identified in terms of gaze behavior towards the eye region of the live model. Together, these observations add neurophysiological evidence to the hypothesized role of oxytocin in modulating approach/avoidance related tendencies and suggest that inter-subject variability in person-dependent factors need to be considered in order to evaluate the potential benefit of intranasal oxytocin as a treatment. This notion is of particular relevance to the variety of neuropsychiatric populations such as autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety disorder and depression, for which intranasal oxytocin is increasingly considered a potential treatment.
Journal: Brain Communications
ISSN: 2632-1297
Issue: 2
Volume: 2
Pages: 1 - 12
Publication year:2020