Intranasal administration of oxytocin decreases task-related aggressive responses in healthy young males

Youri R. Berends, Joke H.M. Tulen, André I. Wierdsma, Johannes van Pelt, Ruth Feldman, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, Yolanda B. de Rijke, Steven A. Kushner, Hjalmar J.C. van Marle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Aggression and distrust are often challenging problems in mental health treatment. Converging evidence reveals that oxytocin increases trust in social interactions and decreases fear of social betrayal. However, oxytocin has also been associated with protective behavior and, as such, might increase defensive aggressive reactions. In this randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the effects of intranasal oxytocin (32IU) on task-related aggressive responses were measured using the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP). Fifty-seven healthy males were enrolled and randomized to oxytocin (N = 30) or placebo (n = 27). Salivary oxytocin, cortisol and testosterone were measured serially prior to the intervention, and then before and after the PSAP, to evaluate the effects of oxytocin administration on hormonal functioning in relation to aggression. In addition, oxytocin was measured in urine collected directly after the experimental task, reflecting the 2 h period after oxytocin or placebo administration. The proportion of aggressive responses to the PSAP was significantly lower in participants receiving oxytocin versus placebo (β= -0.46, P = 0.01). No significant effect of oxytocin was found regarding defensive reactions. Urinary oxytocin was negatively associated with the proportion of aggressive responses to the PSAP in both the oxytocin and the placebo group (β= -0.02, P < 0.01), suggesting that higher levels of urinary oxytocin corresponded with reduced aggressive responding. Our results indicate that oxytocin administration reduces aggressive behavior in healthy young men. Moreover, increased endogenous urinary oxytocin is associated with less aggressive responding. Taken together, these findings suggest that oxytocin signaling has a causal influence on aggressive behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-154
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by Fivoor, the Erasmus MC and the Koningsheide foundation ( P2013/485 ). The authors thank P.T. Vinther, T.M. Pesch and H. Schollaart for their contibution to the data collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Aggression
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Oxytocin
  • PSAP


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