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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Oct;60:75-81. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.06.006. Epub 2015 Jun 19.

Does oxytocin affect mind-reading? A replication study.

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RWTH Aachen, Medical Faculty, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Aachen, Germany; Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) - Translational Brain Medicine, Jülich/Aachen, Germany. Electronic address:
Leiden University, Department of Clinical Psychology and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden, The Netherlands.


One of the most well-known findings in human oxytocin research is its beneficial effect on "mind-reading", i.e., inferring others' mental states just from the eye region in the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). Previous studies have partially confirmed these improvements and have further shown that they depend both on baseline social-emotional abilities and on specific item characteristics such as difficulty. Following the original design of Domes et al. (2007), the aim of the current study was to replicate and extend previous findings by thoroughly investigating the impact of oxytocin administration on RMET performance. We tested for potential moderation effects involving item difficulty, valence, intensity, sex of poser as well as individual differences in trait empathy measured with the Empathy Quotient (EQ) for a general score and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) for a multidimensional assessment of cognitive and emotional empathy. Oxytocin did not affect mind-reading, neither in general nor when considering specific item characteristics. An association between oxytocin-induced changes in RMET performance and emotional empathy (the empathic concern scale of the IRI) was evident, with individuals low in emotional empathy showing greater improvement after oxytocin administration compared to placebo. The reproducibility and variability of these and prior findings needs to be addressed in future experiments. As true effects may not replicate across different studies for various reasons, this should not discourage, but encourage further research.


Empathy; Mind-reading; Oxytocin; RMET; Replication; Social cognition

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