New treatment for social problems in autism? Oxytocin improves emotion recognition

Apr 08, 2010

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are developmental disorders usually diagnosed in childhood. Children with ASDs have impairments in social interactions and communication, and a tendency towards repetitive behaviors. A hallmark of autism is a difficulty in understanding and reciprocating the emotion of others. Although behavioral therapies can improve some symptoms of autism, there is currently no effective treatment for these problems.

Oxytocin is a hormone that has effects on . Although it is best known for its role in facilitating labor, delivery, and breast-feeding, it is also important in promoting trust, love, and social recognition.

In a new study in , published by Elsevier, Australian autism experts recruited adolescents with ASDs. Using a rigorous study design, they administered a single dose each of oxytocin and placebo via a nasal spray, received one week apart. Both times, the subjects were asked to complete a facial expression task that measures emotion recognition.

Compared to administration of the placebo spray, the subjects' performance on the task was improved when they received the oxytocin spray.

These findings provide the first evidence that "a brief and simple intervention can improve emotion understanding in , or in fact any clinical disorder associated with social dysfunction. It is also the first to show the benefits of oxytocin nasal spray in young people, suggesting potential for earlier intervention where there may be greater opportunity to improve development," explained author Dr. Adam Guastella. "This study, therefore, makes an important advance with the longer-term hope that oxytocin could be used to improve social function in everyday settings for clinical disorders associated with social dysfunction."

Since this was a relatively small study, additional research is still needed to confirm these promising findings and further evaluate oxytocin as a potential treatment. Until then, the authors advise against the use of outside of supervised clinical trial research.

Explore further: Altruistic behavior may be governed more by relationships than instincts, psychologist finds

More information: The article is "Intranasal Oxytocin Improves Emotion Recognition for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders" by Adam J. Guastella, Stewart L. Einfeld, Kylie M. Gray, Nicole J. Rinehart, Bruce J. Tonge, Timothy J. Lambert, and Ian B. Hickie. Guastella, Einfeld, Lambert, and Hickie are affiliated with the University of Sydney, Sydey, Australia. Gray, Rinehart, and Tonge are affiliated with Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 67, Issue 7 (April 1, 2010)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hormone important in recognizing familiar faces

Jan 06, 2009

Oxytocin, a hormone involved in child-birth and breast-feeding, helps people recognize familiar faces, according to new research in the January 7 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Study participants who had one dose o ...

A hormone that enhances one's memory of happy faces

Jul 28, 2008

Oxytocin was originally studied as the "milk let-down factor," i.e., a hormone that was necessary for breast-feeding. However, there is increasing evidence that this hormone also plays an important role in social bonding ...

Genetic links to impaired social behavior in autism

May 13, 2008

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show profound deficits in social interactions and communications, and display repetitive behaviors and abnormal responses to sensory experiences. One aspect of an autistic ...

To recognize their friends, mice use their amygdalas

Apr 05, 2007

Even those who can’t remember names can usually recall faces. New research from Rockefeller University suggests that a simple brain chemical, a neuropeptide called oxytocin, is a reason.

Oxytocin: Love potion #1?

Apr 29, 2009

Relationships are difficult and most of us probably think at some point that communicating positively with our partner when discussing stressful issues, like home finances, is an impossible task. What if there was a safe ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.