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Men perform comparably to women in a perspective taking task after administration of intranasal oxytocin but not after placebo.

Theodoridou A, et al. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013.


Oxytocin (OT) is thought to play an important role in human interpersonal information processing and behavior. By inference, OT should facilitate empathic responding, i.e., the ability to feel for others and to take their perspective. In two independent double-blind, placebo-controlled between-subjects studies, we assessed the effect of intranasally administered OT on affective empathy and perspective taking, whilst also examining potential sex differences (e.g., women being more empathic than men). In study 1, we provided 96 participants (48 men) with an empathy scenario and recorded self-reports of empathic reactions to the scenario, while in study 2, a sample of 120 individuals (60 men) performed a computerized implicit perspective taking task. Whilst results from Study 1 showed no influence of OT on affective empathy, we found in Study 2 that OT exerted an effect on perspective taking ability in men. More specifically, men responded faster than women in the placebo group but they responded as slowly as women in the OT group. We conjecture that men in the OT group adopted a social perspective taking strategy, such as did women in both groups, but not men in the placebo group. On the basis of results across both studies, we suggest that self-report measures (such as used in Study 1) might be less sensitive to OT effects than more implicit measures of empathy such as that used in Study 2. If these assumptions are confirmed, one could infer that OT effects on empathic responses are more pronounced in men than women, and that any such effect is best studied using more implicit measures of empathy rather than explicit self-report measures.


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