Inhaled oxytocin increases positive social behaviors in newborn macaques

Elizabeth A. Simpson, Valentina Sclafani, Annika Paukner, Amanda F. Hamel, Melinda A. Novak, Jerrold S. Meyer, Stephen J. Suomi, Pier Francesco Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Early caregiver-infant interactions are critical for infants' socioemotional and cognitive development. Several hormones and neuromodulators, including oxytocin, affect these interactions. Exogenous oxytocin promotes social behaviors in several species, including human and nonhuman primates. Although exogenous oxytocin increases social function in adults-including expression recognition and affiliation-it is unknown whether oxytocin can increase social interactions in infants. We hypothesized that nebulized oxytocin would increase affiliative social behaviors and such effects would be modulated by infants' social skills, measured earlier in development. We also hypothesized that oxytocin's effects on social behaviors may be due to its anxiolytic effects. We tested these hypotheses in a blind study by nebulizing 7-to 14-d-old macaques (n = 28) with oxytocin or saline. Following oxytocin administration, infants' facial gesturing at a human caregiver increased, and infants' salivary oxytocin was positively correlated with the time spent in close proximity to a caregiver. Infants' imitative skill (measured earlier in development: 1-7 d of age) predicted oxytocin-associated increases in affiliative behaviors-lip smacking, visual attention to a caregiver, and time in close proximity to a caregiver-suggesting that infants with higher propensities for positive social interactions are more sensitive to exogenous oxytocin. Oxytocin also decreased salivary cortisol, but not stressrelated behaviors (e.g., scratching), suggesting the possibility of some anxiolytic effects. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence that oxytocin increases positive social behaviors in newborns. This information is of critical importance for potential interventions aimed at ameliorating inadequate social behaviors in infants with higher likelihood of developing neurodevelopmental disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6922-6927
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 13 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Imitation recognition
  • Individual differences
  • Neonatal imitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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