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Sex-specific effects of intranasal oxytocin on autonomic nervous system and emotional responses to couple conflict


Ditzen, Beate; Nater, Urs M; Schaer, Marcel; La Marca, Roberto; Bodenmann, Guy; Ehlert, Ulrike; Heinrichs, Markus (2013). Sex-specific effects of intranasal oxytocin on autonomic nervous system and emotional responses to couple conflict. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(8):897-902.

Abstract

Unhappy couple relationships are associated with impaired individual health, an effect thought to be mediated through ongoing couple conflicts. Little is known, however, about the underlying mechanisms regulating psychobiological stress, and particularly autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity, during negative couple interaction. In this study, we tested the effects of the neuropeptide oxytocin on ANS reactivity during couple conflict in a standardized laboratory paradigm. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled design, 47 heterosexual couples (total n = 94) received oxytocin or placebo intranasally prior to instructed couple conflict. Participants' behavior was videotaped and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), a measure of sympathetic activity, and emotional arousal were repeatedly measured during the experiment. Oxytocin significantly reduced sAA during couple conflict in women, whereas men showed increases in sAA levels (sex × group interaction: B = -49.36, t = -2.68, P = 0.009). In men, these increases were related to augmented emotional arousal (r = 0.286, P = 0.028) and more positive behavior (r = 0.291, P = 0.026), whereas there was no such association in women. Our results imply sex-specific effects of oxytocin on sympathetic activity, to negative couple interaction, with the neuropeptide reducing sAA responses and emotional arousal in women while increasing them in men.

Abstract

Unhappy couple relationships are associated with impaired individual health, an effect thought to be mediated through ongoing couple conflicts. Little is known, however, about the underlying mechanisms regulating psychobiological stress, and particularly autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity, during negative couple interaction. In this study, we tested the effects of the neuropeptide oxytocin on ANS reactivity during couple conflict in a standardized laboratory paradigm. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled design, 47 heterosexual couples (total n = 94) received oxytocin or placebo intranasally prior to instructed couple conflict. Participants' behavior was videotaped and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), a measure of sympathetic activity, and emotional arousal were repeatedly measured during the experiment. Oxytocin significantly reduced sAA during couple conflict in women, whereas men showed increases in sAA levels (sex × group interaction: B = -49.36, t = -2.68, P = 0.009). In men, these increases were related to augmented emotional arousal (r = 0.286, P = 0.028) and more positive behavior (r = 0.291, P = 0.026), whereas there was no such association in women. Our results imply sex-specific effects of oxytocin on sympathetic activity, to negative couple interaction, with the neuropeptide reducing sAA responses and emotional arousal in women while increasing them in men.

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19 citations in Web of Science®
20 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Psychotherapeutisches Zentrum des Psychologischen Instituts UZH
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:10 Oct 2012 08:55
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:58
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1749-5016
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss083
PubMed ID:22842905

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