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The awareness of the scared - context dependent influence of oxytocin on brain function


Baettig, Linda; Baeumelt, Andreas; Ernst, Jutta; Boeker, Heinz; Grimm, Simone; Richter, Andre (2019). The awareness of the scared - context dependent influence of oxytocin on brain function. Brain imaging and behavior:Epub ahead of print.

Abstract

Oxytocin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter and has been originally recognized for its role in childbirth and lactation. Later, it became widely known as a "cuddle hormone" that induces trusting behavior towards strangers and reduces social stress and anxiety. Several studies showed that oxytocin influences empathic behavior and has prosocial effects. The anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula are brain regions that are active when humans observe fear in others. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate whether oxytocin administration affects activity in these regions depending on whether a threat is directed at another person (empathy) compared to when the threat is directed at the subject itself (fear). Our findings demonstrate increased anterior cingulate cortex activation after oxytocin administration in the fear, but not in the empathy condition. Furthermore, oxytocin administration was associated with deceased anterior insula activity in the empathy condition. However, our findings do not support the idea that oxytocin generally augments activity in brain regions associated with empathy. Thereby this study supports current research questioning that oxytocin has exclusively prosocial effects on human behavior. Rather, the effect of oxytocin depends on various contextual (e.g. presence of a familiar person) and interindividual (e.g. sex, mental disorder) factors. Therefore, to consider oxytocin an empathy inducing hormone is an oversimplification and future research should focus on factors moderating oxytocin effects.

Abstract

Oxytocin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter and has been originally recognized for its role in childbirth and lactation. Later, it became widely known as a "cuddle hormone" that induces trusting behavior towards strangers and reduces social stress and anxiety. Several studies showed that oxytocin influences empathic behavior and has prosocial effects. The anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula are brain regions that are active when humans observe fear in others. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate whether oxytocin administration affects activity in these regions depending on whether a threat is directed at another person (empathy) compared to when the threat is directed at the subject itself (fear). Our findings demonstrate increased anterior cingulate cortex activation after oxytocin administration in the fear, but not in the empathy condition. Furthermore, oxytocin administration was associated with deceased anterior insula activity in the empathy condition. However, our findings do not support the idea that oxytocin generally augments activity in brain regions associated with empathy. Thereby this study supports current research questioning that oxytocin has exclusively prosocial effects on human behavior. Rather, the effect of oxytocin depends on various contextual (e.g. presence of a familiar person) and interindividual (e.g. sex, mental disorder) factors. Therefore, to consider oxytocin an empathy inducing hormone is an oversimplification and future research should focus on factors moderating oxytocin effects.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Klinik für Konsiliarpsychiatrie und Psychosomatik
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cognitive Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience, Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Neurology, Psychiatry and Mental health, Clinical Neurology
Language:English
Date:17 July 2019
Deposited On:18 Feb 2020 15:42
Last Modified:18 Feb 2020 15:43
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:1931-7557
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-019-00143-2
PubMed ID:31317388

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Language: English
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Embargo till: 2020-07-17