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Neurobiol Aging. 2014 Oct;35(10):2246-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.04.021. Epub 2014 Apr 26.

Oxytocin improves emotion recognition for older males.

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Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Older adults (≥60 years) perform worse than young adults (18-30 years) when recognizing facial expressions of emotion. The hypothesized cause of these changes might be declines in neurotransmitters that could affect information processing within the brain. In the present study, we examined the neuropeptide oxytocin that functions to increase neurotransmission. Research suggests that oxytocin benefits the emotion recognition of less socially able individuals. Men tend to have lower levels of oxytocin and older men tend to have worse emotion recognition than older women; therefore, there is reason to think that older men will be particularly likely to benefit from oxytocin. We examined this idea using a double-blind design, testing 68 older and 68 young adults randomly allocated to receive oxytocin nasal spray (20 international units) or placebo. Forty-five minutes afterward they completed an emotion recognition task assessing labeling accuracy for angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, neutral, and sad faces. Older males receiving oxytocin showed improved emotion recognition relative to those taking placebo. No differences were found for older females or young adults. We hypothesize that oxytocin facilitates emotion recognition by improving neurotransmission in the group with the worst emotion recognition.


Aging; Emotion recognition; Gender differences; Oxytocin

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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