Effects of oxytocin administration and conditioned oxytocin on the perception of emotional faces, crying baby sounds and heat pain: an fMRI study


It has been demonstrated that secretion of several hormones can be classically conditioned, however, the underlying brain responses of such conditioning have never been investigated before. In this study we aimed to investigate how oxytocin administration and classically conditioned oxytocin influence brain responses. In total, 88 females were allocated to one of three groups: oxytocin administration, conditioned oxytocin, or placebo, and underwent an experiment consisting of three acquisition and three evocation days. Participants in the conditioned group received 24 IU of oxytocin together with a conditioned stimulus (CS) during three acquisition days and placebo with the CS on three evocation days. The oxytocin administration group received 24 IU of oxytocin and the placebo group received placebo during all days. On the last evocation day, fMRI scanning was performed for all participants during three tasks previously shown to be affected by oxytocin: presentation of emotional faces, crying baby sounds and heat pain. Region of interest analysis revealed that there was significantly lower activation in the right amygdala and in two clusters in the left superior temporal gyrus in the oxytocin administration group compared to the placebo group in response to observing fearful faces. The activation in the conditioned oxytocin group was in between the other two groups for these clusters but did not significantly differ from either group. No group differences were found in the other tasks. Preliminary evidence was found for brain activation of a conditioned oxytocin response; however, despite this trend in the expected direction, the conditioned group did not significantly differ from other groups. Future research should, therefore, investigate the optimal timing of conditioned endocrine responses and study whether the findings generalize to other hormones as well.

Psychosomatic Medicine
Aleksandrina Skvortsova
Aleksandrina Skvortsova
Assistant Professor