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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Aug;38(8):1418-25. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.12.023. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Does intranasal oxytocin promote prosocial behavior to an excluded fellow player? A randomized-controlled trial with Cyberball.

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Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


The neuropeptide oxytocin has been shown to stimulate prosocial behavior. However, recent studies indicate that adverse early caregiving experiences may moderate the positive effects of oxytocin. In this double blind randomized-controlled trial we investigated the effects of oxytocin on prosocial behavior during a virtual ball-tossing game called Cyberball. We examined the influence of oxytocin on prosocial helping behavior toward a socially excluded person who was known to the participant, taking into account early caregiving experiences and the emotional facial expression of the excluded person as potential moderators. Participants were 54 women who received a nasal spray containing either 16IU of oxytocin or a placebo and had reported how often their mother used love withdrawal as a disciplinary strategy involving withholding love and affection after a failure or misbehavior. We found that participants compensated for other players' ostracism by throwing the ball more often toward the excluded player. Oxytocin administration further increased the number of ball throws toward the excluded person, but only in individuals who experienced low levels of maternal love withdrawal. The facial expression of the excluded person did not affect prosocial helping behavior and did not moderate the effects of oxytocin. Our findings indicate that the positive effects of oxytocin on prosocial behavior toward a victim of social exclusion are limited to individuals with supportive family backgrounds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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