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Endogenous oxytocin levels are associated with facial emotion recognition accuracy but not gaze behavior in individuals with schizophrenia

  • Spilka, Michael J.1
  • Keller, William R.2
  • Buchanan, Robert W.3
  • Gold, James M.3
  • Koenig, James I.4
  • Strauss, Gregory P.1
  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
  • 2 Dartmouth College, Geisel School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, USA
  • 3 ersity of Maryland, USA
  • 4 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, MD, USA
Published Article
Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica
Wiley (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
Mar 16, 2022
DOI: 10.1111/acps.13421
PMID: 35243618
PMCID: PMC9007857
PubMed Central
  • Article


Objective: Difficulties in social cognition are common in individuals with schizophrenia (SZ) and are not ameliorated by antipsychotic treatment. Intranasal oxytocin (OT) administration has been explored as a potential intervention to improve social cognition; however, results are inconsistent, suggesting potential individual difference variables that may influence treatment response. Less is known about the relationship between endogenous OT and social cognition in SZ, knowledge of which may improve the development of OT-focused therapies. We examined plasma OT in relationship to facial emotion recognition and visual attention to salient facial features in SZ and controls. Methods: Forty-two individuals with SZ and 23 healthy controls viewed photographs of facial expressions of varying emotional intensity and identified the emotional expression displayed. Participants’ gaze behavior during the task was recorded via eye tracking. Plasma oxytocin concentrations were determined by radioimmunoassay. Results: SZ were less accurate than controls at identifying high intensity fearful facial expressions and low intensity sad expressions. Lower overall and high-intensity facial emotion recognition accuracy was associated with lower plasma OT levels in SZ but not controls. OT was not associated with visual attention to salient facial features; however, SZ had reduced visual attention to the nose region compared to controls. Conclusion: Individual differences in endogenous OT predict facial emotion recognition ability in SZ but are not associated with visual attention to salient facial features. Increased understanding of the association between endogenous OT and social cognitive abilities in SZ may help improve the design and interpretation of OT-focused clinical trials in SZ.

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