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The Role of Oxytocin on Social Behaviour - Implications for Theory of Mind Deficits in Austism

By C.H.L. Marck


This paper has described the role of the neuropeptide OT on social behaviours. Administration of OT in healthy individuals results in improvements in social behaviours such as social memory and trust, reduces social stress and improves the amount of gaze to the eye region in faces and the ability to infer mental states by looking at someone’s eyes. These social behaviours, termed ToM, are impaired in certain psychiatric disorders such as ASC, and OT levels have been shown to be altered in individuals with ASC. In addition, genes coding for OT and OT receptors are shown to be different in individuals with ASC compared to controls. Altered OT levels have been linked to ASC in previous research, however, the exact relation remains unclear. Since impaired ToM is one of the core symptoms of ASC, and research shows that OT plays a significant role in regulating ToM, this paper argues for a specific role of OT on ToM in ASC. Further evidence for a link between OT, ToM and ASC comes from studies looking at individuals with adverse childhood experiences. Adults who were confronted with unfavourable conditions in their childhood have been shown to have lower OT levels, whereas children are shown to have altered OT reactions after social interactions. Simultaneously, adverse childhood experiences have been shown to lead to impairments in ToM and to autistic like features. OT administration in individuals with ASC results in improvements in ToM abilities as well as other symptoms, such as repetitive behaviours. This implies that other symptoms than impaired ToM also benefits from OT treatment as there is no apparent role between ToM and repetitive behaviours. Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism behind this. Concluding, ToM seems to be an important factor in the role of OT in ASC. OT administration, in the right dose, could add to significant improvement in social behaviour in individuals in which the synthesis of OT is impaired. However, if there is a deficit in the OT receptor system, administration of OT will have less beneficial effects. More research is needed to elucidate the effects of OT administration in individuals with ASC

Topics: Geneeskunde, Oxytocin, Autism, Theory of Mind,
Year: 2009
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