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Stress. 2012 Jul;15(4):393-402. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.631154. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

Intranasal oxytocin and salivary cortisol concentrations during social rejection in university students.

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  • 1Centre for Research in Human Development, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.


Oxytocin facilitates pro-social behaviour and is proposed as a regulatory factor controlling stress reactivity. Previous research on oxytocin and stress has focused on achievement-related stressors among male participants. The aims of the study were to (1) examine the influence of oxytocin on the affective and cortisol response to the Yale Interpersonal Stressor (YIPS), a live social rejection paradigm, and (2) to replicate the finding that women exhibit a greater cortisol response to interpersonal stress than men (Stroud et al. 2002). Sex differences in stress responses: Social rejection versus achievement stress. Biol Psychiat 53:318-327. Ninety-six undergraduate students underwent the YIPS, where participants were excluded from two separate conversations by two same-sex confederates. Salivary cortisol concentrations and mood were repeatedly measured throughout the study. Participants were administered, in a double-blind design, a single dose of intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo prior to beginning the YIPS. The YIPS elicited a significant negative mood response that was more pronounced in females than in males. However, no significant cortisol response to the stressor and no sex difference in cortisol reactivity were observed. A significant effect of drug condition on cortisol levels was observed. Participants who were administered oxytocin exhibited a decrease in cortisol levels, relative to placebo, during the YIPS, F (4, 184)=4.50, p<0.05. The study failed to replicate the sex difference in the cortisol response to interpersonal stress reported by Stroud et al. (2002). Intranasal oxytocin, however, appeared to reduce cortisol concentrations during an interpersonal challenge.

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