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BACKGROUND: Individuals with schizophrenia have difficulty in extracting salient information from faces. Eye-tracking studies have reported that these individuals demonstrate reduced exploratory viewing behaviour (i.e. reduced number of fixations and shorter scan paths) compared to healthy controls. Oxytocin has previously been demonstrated to exert pro-social effects and modulate eye gaze during face exploration. In this study, we tested whether oxytocin has an effect on visual attention in patients with schizophrenia.

METHODS: Nineteen male participants with schizophrenia received intranasal oxytocin 40UI or placebo in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover fashion during two visits separated by seven days. They engaged in a free-viewing eye-tracking task, exploring images of Caucasian men displaying angry, happy, and neutral emotional expressions; and control images of animate and inanimate stimuli. Eye-tracking parameters included: total number of fixations, mean duration of fixations, dispersion, and saccade amplitudes.

RESULTS: We found a main effect of treatment, whereby oxytocin increased the total number of fixations, dispersion, and saccade amplitudes, while decreasing the duration of fixations compared to placebo. This effect, however, was non-specific to facial stimuli. When restricting the analysis to facial images only, we found the same effect. In addition, oxytocin modulated fixation rates in the eye and nasion regions.

DISCUSSION: This is the first study to explore the effects of oxytocin on eye gaze in schizophrenia. Oxytocin had enhanced exploratory viewing behaviour in response to both facial and inanimate control stimuli. We suggest that the acute administration of intranasal oxytocin may have the potential to enhance visual attention in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-287
Number of pages9
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Early online date10 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Eye-tracking
  • Oxytocin
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social cognition
  • Visual attention


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