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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Sep;38(9):1748-56. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.02.011. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Intranasal oxytocin selectively attenuates rhesus monkeys' attention to negative facial expressions.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, United States; Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Atlanta, GA, United States; Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, United States. Electronic address:


Intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) modulates social perception and cognition in humans and could be an effective pharmacotherapy for treating social impairments associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, like autism. However, it is unknown how IN-OT modulates social cognition, its effect after repeated use, or its impact on the developing brain. Animal models are urgently needed. This study examined the effect of IN-OT on social perception in monkeys using tasks that reveal some of the social impairments seen in autism. Six rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta, 4 males) received a 48 IU dose of OT or saline placebo using a pediatric nebulizer. An hour later, they performed a computerized task (the dot-probe task) to measure their attentional bias to social, emotional, and nonsocial images. Results showed that IN-OT significantly reduced monkeys' attention to negative facial expressions, but not neutral faces or clip art images and, additionally, showed a trend to enhance monkeys' attention to direct vs. averted gaze faces. This study is the first to demonstrate an effect of IN-OT on social perception in monkeys, IN-OT selectively reduced monkey's attention to negative facial expressions, but not neutral social or nonsocial images. These findings complement several reports in humans showing that IN-OT reduces the aversive quality of social images suggesting that, like humans, monkey social perception is mediated by the oxytocinergic system. Importantly, these results in monkeys suggest that IN-OT does not dampen the emotional salience of social stimuli, but rather acts to affect the evaluation of emotional images during the early stages of information processing.


Attention; Autism; Facial expression; Gaze; Oxytocin; Social cognition

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