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Oxytocin increases eye contact during a real-time, naturalistic social interaction in males with and without autism

Auyeung, B., Lombardo, M. V., Heinrichs, M., Chakrabarti, B., Sule, A., Deakin, J. B., Bethlehem, R. A. I., Dickens, L., Mooney, N., Sipple, J. A. N., Thiemann, P. and Baron-Cohen, S. (2015) Oxytocin increases eye contact during a real-time, naturalistic social interaction in males with and without autism. Translational Psychiatry, 5 (2). e507. ISSN 2158-3188

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/tp.2014.146

Abstract/Summary

Autism spectrum conditions (autism) affect ~1% of the population and are characterized by deficits in social communication. Oxytocin has been widely reported to affect social-communicative function and its neural underpinnings. Here we report the first evidence that intranasal oxytocin administration improves a core problem that individuals with autism have in using eye contact appropriately in real-world social settings. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects design is used to examine how intranasal administration of 24 IU of oxytocin affects gaze behavior for 32 adult males with autism and 34 controls in a real-time interaction with a researcher. This interactive paradigm bypasses many of the limitations encountered with conventional static or computer-based stimuli. Eye movements are recorded using eye tracking, providing an objective measurement of looking patterns. The measure is shown to be sensitive to the reduced eye contact commonly reported in autism, with the autism group spending less time looking to the eye region of the face than controls. Oxytocin administration selectively enhanced gaze to the eyes in both the autism and control groups (transformed mean eye-fixation difference per second=0.082; 95% CI:0.025–0.14, P=0.006). Within the autism group, oxytocin has the most effect on fixation duration in individuals with impaired levels of eye contact at baseline (Cohen’s d=0.86). These findings demonstrate that the potential benefits of oxytocin in autism extend to a real-time interaction, providing evidence of a therapeutic effect in a key aspect of social communication.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN)
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) Research Network
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Neuroscience
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Centre for Cognition Research (CCR)
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:39535
Publisher:Nature

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