Background: In nonhuman mammals, oxytocin has a critical role in peer recognition and social approach behavior. In humans, oxytocin has been found to enhance trust and the ability to interpret the emotions of others. It has been suggested that oxytocin may enhance facial processing by increasing focus on the eye region of human faces. Methods: In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, between-subject design, we tracked the eye movements of 52 healthy male volunteers who were presented with 24 neutral human faces after intranasal administration of 24 IU oxytocin or placebo. Results: Participants given oxytocin showed an increased number of fixations and total gaze time toward the eye region compared with placebo participants. Conclusions: Oxytocin increases gaze specifically toward the eye region of human faces. This may be one mechanism by which oxytocin enhances emotion recognition, interpersonal communication, and social approach behavior in humans. Findings suggest a possible role for oxytocin in the treatment of disorders characterized by eye-gaze avoidance and facial processing deficits.
- face recognition
- social cognition