Effects of oxytocin on attention to emotional faces in healthy volunteers and highly socially anxious males.


BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that individuals with social anxiety demonstrate vigilance to social threat, whilst the peptide hormone oxytocin is widely accepted as supporting affiliative behaviour in humans. METHODS: This study investigated whether oxytocin can affect attentional bias in social anxiety. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, within-group study design, 26 healthy and 16 highly socially anxious (HSA) male volunteers (within the HSA group, 10 were diagnosed with generalized social anxiety disorder) were administered 24 IU of oxytocin or placebo to investigate attentional processing in social anxiety. Attentional bias was assessed using the dot-probe paradigm with angry, fearful, happy and neutral face stimuli. RESULTS: In the baseline placebo condition, the HSA group showed greater attentional bias for emotional faces than healthy individuals. Oxytocin reduced the difference between HSA and non-socially anxious individuals in attentional bias for emotional faces. Moreover, it appeared to normalize attentional bias in HSA individuals to levels seen in the healthy population in the baseline condition. The biological mechanisms by which oxytocin may be exerting these effects are discussed. CONCLUSIONS: These results, coupled with previous research, could indicate a potential therapeutic use of this hormone in treatment for social anxiety.