Autism & oxytocin

Oxytocin enhances brain function in children with autism
PNAS. December 24, 2013. 110(52)
Ilanit Gordon

This article presents our discovery that intranasal administration of oxytocin enhances activity in the brain for socially meaningful stimuli and attenuates its response to nonsocially meaningful stimuli in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as measured via functional MRI. We also identified a relationship between changes in salivary oxytocin following administration and enhancements in brain function.

These discoveries are particularly important given the urgent need for treatments that target the core social dysfunction in ASD. The functional neural attunement we demonstrated might facilitate social learning, thus potentially bringing about long-term change in neural systems and subsequent behavioral improvements.
Our results illustrate the power of a translational neuroscience approach to facilitate the development of pharmacological interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders like ASD.

Promoting social behavior with oxytocin …
PNAS February 16, 2010

Chemical trust: Oxytocin oxymoron?

Chemical trust: Oxytocin oxymoron?
The American Journal of Bioethics, 5(3): 1–2, 2005

Writing in the journal Nature, Michael Kosfeld and colleagues reported that intranasal administration of oxytocin, a human neuropeptide involved in maternal bonding, “causes a substantial increase in trusting behavior, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions.”

The double-blind study involved a trust game with real monetary stakes, in which the subjects played the role of either an investor or a trustee. Investors could choose whether and how much money to invest with an anonymous trustee, and the trustees could choose whether to honor or violate the investors’ trust. The investors who had inhaled the oxytocin invested 17% more money than those who received the placebo.

… Trust is a complex human phenomenon, involving social behavior, emotions, and values—the potential medicalization of trust is cause for concern. While the researchers focused primarily on what they viewed as the positive aspects of trust as the glue that holds families, economies and societies together, a high level of trust is not necessarily an unmitigated good. The researchers reported that the drug inhibited defensive behaviors and betrayal aversion; this necessarily leaves affected individuals more vulnerable. Essentially, a person or institution with the capability of artificially manipulating trust levels would be in a position to increase people’s level of gullibility. Artificially manipulated trust levels could compromise people’s ability to make sound judgments and put them in risky situations.

papers cited:

Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435: 673–676 (2 June 2005).

Damasio, A. Human behavior: Brain trust. Nature, 435: 571–6572 (2 June 2005).

‘Imperfect Harmony’: How Singing With Others Changes Your Life

‘Imperfect Harmony’: How Singing With Others Changes Your Life
June 03, 2013


making music vs. listening

Daniel Levitin, psychology professor at McGill University, and author of This Is Your Brain on Music, joins the conversation to explain the science of group singing.