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Schizophr Res. 2019 Aug 12. pii: S0920-9964(19)30319-6. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2019.07.039. [Epub ahead of print]

Oxytocin increases eye gaze in schizophrenia.

Author information

1
University of California, San Francisco, CA, United States of America; San Francisco Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, United States of America. Electronic address: ellen.bradley@ucsf.edu.
2
University of California, San Francisco, CA, United States of America.
3
University of California, San Francisco, CA, United States of America; San Francisco Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, United States of America.

Abstract

Abnormal eye gaze is common in schizophrenia and linked to functional impairment. The hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin modulates visual attention to social stimuli, but its effects on eye gaze in schizophrenia are unknown. We examined visual scanning of faces in men with schizophrenia and neurotypical controls to quantify oxytocin effects on eye gaze. In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study, 33 men with schizophrenia and 39 matched controls received one dose of intranasal oxytocin (40 IU) and placebo on separate testing days. Participants viewed 20 color photographs of faces while their gaze patterns were recorded. We tested for differences in fixation time on the eyes between patients and controls as well as oxytocin effects using linear mixed-effects models. We also tested whether attachment style, symptom severity, and anti-dopaminergic medication dosage moderated oxytocin effects. In the placebo condition, patients showed reduced fixation time on the eyes compared to controls. Oxytocin was associated with an increase in fixation time among patients, but a decrease among controls. Higher attachment anxiety and greater symptom severity predicted increased fixation time on the eyes on oxytocin versus placebo. Anti-dopaminergic medication dosage and attachment avoidance did not impact response to oxytocin. Consistent with findings that oxytocin optimizes processing of social stimuli, intranasal oxytocin enhanced eye gaze in men with schizophrenia. Further work is needed to determine whether changes in eye gaze impact social cognition and functional outcomes. Both attachment anxiety and symptom severity predicted oxytocin response, highlighting the importance of examining potential moderators of oxytocin effects in future studies.

KEYWORDS:

Attachment; Eye-tracking; Oxytocin; Schizophrenia; Social behavior

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