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Oxytocin enhances attention to salient facial features

Thursday, October 11, 2012 — Poster Session IV

2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Natcher Conference Center, Building 45




  • O. Dal Monte
  • P. Noble
  • B.B. Averbeck


Studies have shown that patients with schizophrenia or autism are impaired in their ability to recognize emotions in others. Recent human studies have shown that the neuropeptide oxytocin improves recognition of emotional facial expressions and increases saccades to the eye region during face processing. Observing similar behavior in non-human primates would facilitate mechanistic studies of how oxytocin functions in the brain and could aid in development of therapeutic agents. To examine the effects of oxytocin on patterns of saccades, we showed four rhesus monkeys faces of conspecifics, with neutral, submissive and aggressive expressions. Prior to each session the animals were given either a single intranasal dose of 24 IU oxytocin or saline. From the eye-tracking data, we calculated the number of times the animals fixated the eyes and the mouth. We observed a significant interaction of drug and initial fixation for fixations of the mouth [F(1,24)=4.84,p<.05] such that the animals fixated the mouth less, when they initially fixated the mouth, and fixated the mouth more, when they initially fixated the eyes, on oxytocin relative to saline. Thus, consistent with prior human findings, oxytocin heightened attention to salient facial features relevant for social communication.

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