The role of oxytocin in social anxiety: – pharmaco-challenge and investigation of gender differences
Leading investigators: Katja Bertsch, Sabine Herpertz
Further researchers: Laura Müller
Cooperations: Karin Roelofs and Inge Volman (Donders Institute, Nijmegen)
Funding: DFG BE5292/1-1
A biased processing of socially threatening information, a generally negative representation of the own person, security behaviors, and an enhanced physiological arousal are the most prominent characteristics of social anxiety. Social anxious individuals show enhanced fear conditioning of unconditioned social stimuli, avoid eye contact and social interactions. While enhanced fear conditioning is critical for the development of social anxiety, avoidance and security behaviors are critical for its maintenance and generalization. The neuropeptide oxytocin influences psychological and biological key mechanisms of the ethiology and maintenance of social anxiety. Intranasally administered oxytocin, for instance, reduces the amygdalar reactivity for socially aversive stimuli in healthy men and enhances the attentional focus for positive facial expressions. First results indicate similar oxytocinergic effects in socially anxious individuals. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we aim to investigate behavioral and neurofunctional effects of oxytocin on processes of social learning as well as on approach and avoidance behavior in socially anxious men and women. The study allows a systematic investigation of gender specific differences in the effects of intranasally administered oxytocin on social-emotional functions for the first time.