Oxytocin Improves Social Interaction in Autism

We’ve always known that there was something special about oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for enhancing and adding to a wide range of emotions – from mother and child bonding to sexual intimacy. And it seems to be getting only better as we get to know more about it – researchers have found that oxytocin can now be used to improve social interaction skills in those who suffer from autism, the syndrome which is characterized by poor social skills, repetitive behavior, and the inability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

According to the study which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team from the French national research center (CNRS) in Bron found conclusive evidence to prove that oxytocin improved social behavior in adults with Asperger Syndrome, also known as high-functioning autism.

The experiment focused on throwing a ball to three simulated players, each of whom exhibited different capabilities in passing the ball. One would always throw the ball to the patient, one would sometimes do so, and one would never pass back. The behaviors were changed over the course of time during the experiment so that the good player became the average or the bad and so on. The researchers found that when autistic patients were given oxytocin through an inhaler, they were able to figure out which simulated player always threw the ball back to them, and they in turn threw the ball mostly to them.

This is only one of various experiments that prove that inhaled oxytocin has a positive effect on the social interaction skills of autistic patients in that they are able to make better eye contact. Another research published in Biological Psychiatry in 2007 showed that adults with autism were able to understand the underlying emotions in words when people spoke to them after they were intravenously administred oxytocin. And in 2009, a team of researchers at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia found that autistic children who were given oxytocin performed better in tasks that involved the recognition of emotions portrayed by people’s eyes in photographs.

The only drawback with this form of therapy is that oxytocin produces only short-term results. Even so, it is the first medication that that has proven to be effective in improving eye contact and social recognition and interaction skills in autistic patients.