Oxytocin—a social peptide? Deconstructing the evidence

Gareth Leng*, Rhodri Leng, Mike Ludwig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, we analyse the claim that oxytocin is a ‘social neuropeptide’. This claim originated from evidence that oxytocin was instrumental in the initiation of maternal behaviour and it was extended to become the claim that oxytocin has a key role in promoting social interactions between individuals. We begin by considering the structure of the scientific literature on this topic, identifying closely interconnected clusters of papers on particular themes. We then analyse this claim by considering evidence of four types as generated by these clusters: (i) mechanistic studies in animal models, designed to understand the pathways involved in the behavioural effects of centrally administered oxytocin; (ii) evidence from observational studies indicating an association between oxytocin signalling pathways and social behaviour; (iii) evidence from intervention studies, mainly involving intranasal oxytocin administration; and (iv) evidence from translational studies of patients with disorders of social behaviour. We then critically analyse the most highly cited papers in each segment of the evidence; we conclude that, if these represent the best evidence, then the evidence for the claim is weak.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Interplays between oxytocin and other neuromodulators in shaping complex social behaviours’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20210055
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Early online date11 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • citation network
  • social behaviour
  • oxytocin


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