Oxytocin effects on mind-reading are moderated by experiences of maternal love withdrawal: An fMRI study

Madelon M E Riem, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg*, Alexandra Voorthuis, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The neuropeptide oxytocin has been shown to stimulate a range of social behaviors. However, recent studies indicate that the effects of intranasal oxytocin are more nuanced than previously thought and that contextual factors and individual characteristics moderate the beneficiary oxytocin effects. In this randomized-controlled trial we examine the influence of intranasally administered oxytocin on neural activity during mind-reading with fMRI, taking into account harsh caregiving experiences as a potential moderator. Participants were 50 women who received a nasal spray containing either 16. IU of oxytocin or a placebo and had reported how often their mother used love withdrawal as a disciplinary strategy. Participants performed an adapted version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), a task which requires individuals to infer mental states by looking at photographs of the eye region of faces. We found that oxytocin enhanced neural activation in the superior temporal gyrus (STG) and insula during the RMET. Moreover, oxytocin increased RMET performance outside the scanner. However, the oxytocin induced changes in STG activation and RMET performance were only brought about in potentially less socially proficient individuals who had low RMET performance, that is, participants reporting higher levels of maternal love withdrawal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-112
Number of pages8
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • FMRI
  • Mind-reading
  • Oxytocin
  • RMET
  • Superior temporal gyrus


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