The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has been shown to play a crucial role in establishing trust and cooperation due to its anxiolytic effect and regulation of social affiliation. Recent research indicates that individual differences in OT metabolism correlate with differences in several aspects of social behavior (including empathy, stress reactivity, and an increased likelihood of autism). In addition, the effect of OT on trust and social affiliation appears to depend on contextual inputs and vary with personal characteristics.
The purpose of the current study is therefore threefold. First, we intend to investigate the moderating influence of the social context and personality traits on the behavioral consequences of extraneous nasal OT (versus placebo) administration. Second, we want to gain more insight into the underlying neural mechanism by which OT induces trust and affiliation. Specifically, we explore by means of fMRI and DTI the functional and anatomical connectivity between the neural correlates of fear regulation (amygdala) and social approach (nucleus accumbens). Third, we explore if there might be a relation between low plasma levels of OT and/or the workings of OT on the one hand, and social delinquency on the other hand. Gaining knowledge into the interaction between a hormone that regulates fear and social affiliation, the social environment, and delinquent behavior, might prove to be useful in developing appropriate clinical and behavioural therapies for youth who suffer from social integration problems.
Principal investigator: Declerck Carolyn
Co-principal investigator: Parizel Paul
Co-principal investigator: Boone Christophe