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Effects of Intranasal Oxytocin on the Interpretation and Expression of Emotions in Anorexia Nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number12458
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Volume29
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2017

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Abstract

Altered social-emotional functioning is considered to play an important role in the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa (AN). Recently, there has been increasing interest in investigating the role of intranasal oxytocin in social-emotional processing. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of intranasal oxytocin on the interpretation and expression of emotions among people with AN. Thirty women with AN and 29 age-matched healthy women took part in the present study, which used a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design. The participants received a single dose of 40 IU of intranasal oxytocin in one session and a placebo spray in the other. Fifteen minutes after administration, the participants completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test to assess the interpretation of complex emotions and mental states followed by a video task, which assessed expressions of facial affect when they were viewing humorous and sad film clips. The intranasal oxytocin did not significantly influence the expression or interpretation of emotions in the AN or healthy comparison groups. The AN group expressed significantly less positive emotion, spent more time looking away and reported experiencing a significantly more negative affect in response to the film clips. The finding that intranasal oxytocin had little to no effect on the interpretation or expression of emotions in either group supports the notion that the effects of oxytocin on social-emotional processing are not straightforward and may depend on individual and environmental differences, as well as the emotion being processed. Replication of these findings is necessary to explore the effect of timing on the effects of oxytocin before firm conclusions can be drawn. Nonetheless, these findings add to the steady accumulation of evidence that people with AN have reduced emotional expression and avoidance of emotionally provoking stimuli.

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