Kanat, M., Heinrichs, M., Schwarzwald, R. & Domes, G. (2015). Oxytocin attenuates neural reactivity to masked threat cues from the eyes. Neuropsychopharmacology,40(2), 287-295. United Kingdom: Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.183
The neuropeptide oxytocin has recently been shown to modulate covert attention shifts to emotional face cues and to improve discrimination of masked facial emotions. These results suggest that oxytocin modulates facial emotion processing at early perceptual stages prior to full evaluation of the emotional expression. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine whether oxytocin alters neural responses to backwardly masked angry and happy faces while controlling for attention to the eye vs the mouth region. Intranasal oxytocin administration reduced amygdala reactivity to masked emotions when attending to salient facial features, ie, the eyes of angry faces and the mouth of happy faces. In addition, oxytocin decreased neural responses within the fusiform gyrus and brain stem areas, as well as functional coupling between the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus specifically for threat cues from the eyes. Effects of oxytocin on brain activity were not attributable to differences in behavioral performance, as oxytocin had no impact on mere emotion detection. Our results suggest that oxytocin attenuates neural correlates of early arousal by threat signals from the eye region. As reduced threat sensitivity may increase the likelihood of engaging in social interactions, our findings may have important implications for clinical states of social anxiety.
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