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Author Notes:

Corresponding author: Hasse Walum, 954 Gatewood Rd. Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta GA 30329. Email:hasse.walum@emory.edu

LJY has applied for a patent (US20120108510 - Methods of improving behavioral therapies) for combining melanocortin agonists with behavioral therapies to enhance social cognition in psychiatric disorders.

HW and IW declare no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.


Research Funding:

Preparation of this manuscript was supported by NIH grants NIH grants R01MH096983 and 1P50MH100023.

Additional funding was provided by NIH OD P510D11132 to YNPRC.

HW thanks the Swedish Brain Foundation for financial support.


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Neurosciences
  • Psychiatry
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • Bias
  • Effect size
  • Neuroendocrinology
  • Positive predictive value
  • Social cognition
  • Statistical power

Statistical and Methodological Considerations for the Interpretation of Intranasal Oxytocin Studies


Journal Title:

Biological Psychiatry


Volume 79, Number 3


, Pages 251-257

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Over the last decade, oxytocin (OT) has received focus in numerous studies associating intranasal administration of this peptide with various aspects of human social behavior. These studies in humans are inspired by animal research, especially in rodents, showing that central manipulations of the OT system affect behavioral phenotypes related to social cognition, including parental behavior, social bonding, and individual recognition. Taken together, these studies in humans appear to provide compelling, but sometimes bewildering, evidence for the role of OT in influencing a vast array of complex social cognitive processes in humans. In this article, we investigate to what extent the human intranasal OT literature lends support to the hypothesis that intranasal OT consistently influences a wide spectrum of social behavior in humans. We do this by considering statistical features of studies within this field, including factors like statistical power, prestudy odds, and bias. Our conclusion is that intranasal OT studies are generally underpowered and that there is a high probability that most of the published intranasal OT findings do not represent true effects. Thus, the remarkable reports that intranasal OT influences a large number of human social behaviors should be viewed with healthy skepticism, and we make recommendations to improve the reliability of human OT studies in the future.

Copyright information:

© 2016 Society of Biological Psychiatry.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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