The neuropeptide oxytocin has been implicated in a variety of social processes. However, recent studies indicate that oxytocin does not enhance prosocial behavior in all people in all circumstances. Here, we investigate effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on intrinsic functional brain connectivity with resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants were 42 women who received a nasal spray containing either 16 IU of oxytocin or a placebo and reported how often their mother used love withdrawal as a disciplinary strategy involving withholding love and affection after a failure or misbehavior. We found that oxytocin changes functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and the brainstem. In the oxytocin group there was a positive connectivity between these regions, whereas the placebo group showed negative connectivity. In addition, oxytocin induced functional connectivity changes between the PCC, the cerebellum and the postcentral gyrus, but only for those participants who experienced low levels of maternal love withdrawal. We speculate that oxytocin enhances prosocial behavior by influencing complex brain networks involved in self-referential processing and affectionate touch, most prominently in individuals with supportive family backgrounds.

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European Neuropsychopharmacology
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Riem, M., van IJzendoorn, R., Tops, M., Boksem, M., Rombouts, S., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. (2013). Oxytocin effects on complex brain networks are moderated by experiences of maternal love withdrawal. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 23(10), 1288–1295. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2013.01.011