Oxytocin is associated with differences in the perception of and response to socially mediated information, such as facial expressions. Across studies, however, oxytocin’s effect on emotion perception has been inconsistent. Outside the laboratory, emotion perception involves interpretation of perceptual uncertainty and assessment of behavioral risk. An account of these factors is largely missing from studies of oxytocin’s effect on emotion perception and might explain inconsistent results across studies. Of relevance, studies of oxytocin’s effect on learning and decision-making indicate that oxytocin attenuates risk aversion. We used the probability of encountering angry faces and the cost of misidentifying them as not angry to create a risky environment wherein bias to categorize faces as angry would maximize point earnings. Consistent with an underestimation of the factors creating risk (i.e., encounter rate and cost), men given oxytocin exhibited a worse (i.e., less liberal) response bias than men given placebo. Oxytocin did not influence women’s performance. These results suggest that oxytocin may impair men’s ability to adapt to changes in risk and uncertainty when introduced to novel or changing social environments. Because oxytocin also influences behavior in non-social realms, oxytocin pharmacotherapy could have unintended consequences (i.e., risk-prone decision-making) while nonetheless normalizing pathological social interaction.
Lynn, S. K.*, Hoge, E. A.*, Fischer, L. E., Barrett, L. F., and Simon, N. M. 2014. Gender differences in oxytocin-associated disruption of decision bias during emotion perception. Psychiatry Research 219, 198-203. DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.04.031
*These authors contributed equally to the study.