Rationale: Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that is associated with increases in social affiliative behaviors, particularly toward infants. However, no previous study has investigated healthy adults' responses to infant faces following oxytocin administration. In addition, given that preliminary evidence suggests that a single-nucleotide polymorphism of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene, rs53576, may influence behaviors associated with parental sensitivity, we assessed whether such responses vary according to OXTR rs53576 genotype. Objectives: The present study assessed the effects of intranasally administered oxytocin and OXTR genotype on human adults' preferences for infant faces. Methods: A double-blind, between-groups design was used, with 57 genotyped volunteers randomly assigned to receive intranasally administered oxytocin or placebo. Fifty minutes following the administration of oxytocin or placebo, participants viewed infants' and adults' faces showing neutral expressions and assessed how appealing they found each face. Results: Infants' faces were more strongly preferred following oxytocin inhalation relative to placebo. When participants were separated according to genotype, this effect was only observed for participants homozygous for the rs53576G allele. Parallel effects were not seen for adults' faces. Conclusions: The present results are consistent with the hypothesis that acute oxytocin administration increases sensitivity to reward-relevant features of infants and/or reduces sensitivity to their aversive properties. The results are also consistent with suggestions of more efficient oxytocinergic function in rs53576G homozygotes.
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