Saturday, October 1, 2011

Oxytocin and Social Behaviours

Jack Dikian
October 2011

Yesterday I attended the Developmental Disabilities, Challenging Behaviour and Mental Health conference hosted by The Faculty of Health Sciences and Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney in association with the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability.

It was a packed program including local and international speakers who have shaped and informed the fields of Developmental Disabilities, Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine – with names including Professor Stewart Einfeld, Professor Eric Emerson, Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Professor Bruce Tonge, and Professor Emeritus Trevor Parmenter.

The presentation by Associate Professor Adam Guastella was a particular interest to me in my work with autism and challenging behaviour. Guastella’s work demonstrates the critical role of Oxytocin and Arginine Vasopressin in enhancing social processes (some of which are known to be important in the overall Autism Spectrum Disorder symptomatology) in humans and has laid the foundation for potential new treatments for social dysfunction.

Looking at studies involving the use of Oxytocin and social behaviours, there appears to a number of reports linking Oxytocin with:

  • Reduction of trust of strangers and increasing cultural and racial bias 1
  • Positive correlation between Oxytocin plasma levels and an anxiety scale measuring the adult romantic attachment 2
  • Enhancing eye gaze 3
Also, some studies report links between Oxytocin and improvement in peer and social recognition and bonding, reducing threat sensitivity where threat biases are likely to exist and improvement in retention of social memory.

1. Ed Yong (11 Jan 2011). "No love for outsiders – oxytocin boosts favouritism towards our own ethnic or cultural group". Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing Co.. Retrieved 21 Feb 2011.

2. Marazziti D, Dell'Osso B, Baroni S et al. (2006). "A relationship between oxytocin and anxiety of romantic attachment". Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2: 28. doi:10.1186/1745-0179-2-28.

3. Guastella AJ, Mitchell PB, Dadds MR (Jan 2008). "Oxytocin increases gaze to the eye region of human faces". Biological Psychiatry 63 (1): 3–5. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.06.026. PMID 17888410.

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