, Volume 220, Issue 4, pp 741–749 | Cite as

Acute intranasal oxytocin improves positive self-perceptions of personality

  • Christopher Cardoso
  • Mark A. EllenbogenEmail author
  • Anne-Marie Linnen
Original Investigation



Research suggests the experimental manipulation of oxytocin facilitates positive interactions, cooperation, and trust. The mechanism by which oxytocin influences social behavior is not well understood.


We explored the hypothesis that oxytocin alters how people perceive themselves, which could be one mechanism by which oxytocin promotes prosocial behavior.


In a between-subject, randomized, and double-blind experiment, 100 university students received a 24 I.U. dose of intranasal oxytocin or placebo, and then completed the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and other self-report measures 90 min later.


Intranasal oxytocin increased ratings of NEO-PI-R extraversion and openness to experiences [F(1,98) = 4.910, p = .025, partial η 2 = .05; F(1,98) = 6.021, p = .016, partial η 2 = .06], particularly for the following facets: positive emotions (d = 0.48, p < .05), warmth (d = 0.47, p < .05), openness to values (d = 0.45, p < .05) and ideas (d = 0.40, p < .05), trust (d = 0.44, p < .05), and altruism (d = 0.40, p < .05). Oxytocin had no influence on ratings of negative emotionality, conscientiousness, rejection sensitivity, depression, worry, self-esteem, and perceived social support.


The administration of oxytocin improved participants’ self-perceptions of their personality, at least for certain traits important for social affiliation. Increased positive self-referential processing may be one mechanism by which oxytocin promotes positive social behaviors.


Intranasal oxytocin Personality Trust Altruism Openness Extraversion Positive emotion Self-perception 



This research was supported by grants to Dr. Ellenbogen from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Research Chair program (supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada). Christopher Cardoso is supported by a scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Conflict of Interest



  1. Alvares GA, Hickie IB, Guastella AJ (2010) Acute effects of intranasal oxytocin on subjective and behavioral responses to social rejection. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 18:316–312. doi: 10.1037/a0019719 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andari E, Duhamel JR, Zalla T, Herbrecht E, Leboyer M, Sirigu A (2010) Promoting social behavior with oxytocin in high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Proc Natl Acad Aci U S A 107:4389–4394. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0910249107 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Asendorpf JB, van Aken MA (2003) Personality–relationship transaction in adolescence: core versus surface personality characteristics. J Personal 71:629–666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barraza JA, McCullough ME, Ahmadi S, Zak PJ (2011) Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources. Horm Behav. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.04.008
  5. Bartz JA, Hollander E (2006) The neuroscience of affiliation: forging links between basic and clinical research on neuropeptides and social behavior. Horm Behav 50:518–528. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2006.06.018 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bartz JA, Zaki J, Bolger N et al (2010a) Oxytocin selectively improves empathic accuracy. Psychol Sci 21:1426–1428. doi: 10.1177/0956797610383439 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bartz JA, Zaki J, Ochsner KN, Bolger N, Kolevzon A, Ludwig N, Lydon JE (2010b) Effects of oxytocin on recollections of maternal care and closeness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:21371–21375. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1012669107 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bartz JA, Zaki J, Bolger N, Ochsner KN (2011) Social effects of oxytocin in humans: context and person matter. Trends Cogn Sci 15:301–309. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.05.002 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Baumgartner T, Heinrichs M, Vonlanthen A, Fischbacher U, Fehr E (2008) Oxytocin shapes the neural circuitry of trust and trust adaptation in humans. Neuron 58:639–650. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.04.009 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beck AT, Steer RA, Brown GK (1996) Manual for the Beck depression inventory-II. Psychological Corporation, San AntonioGoogle Scholar
  11. Born J, Lange T, Kern W, McGregor GP, Bickel U, Fehm HL (2002) Sniffing neuropeptides: a transnasal approach to the human brain. Nat Neurosci 5:514–516. doi: 10.1038/nn849 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bryant RA, Hung L, Guastella AJ, Mitchell PB (2011) Oxytocin as a moderator of hypnotizability. Psychoneuroendocrinology. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.05.010
  13. Buchheim A, Heinrichs M, George C et al (2009) Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34:1417–1422. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.002 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Campbell A (2010) Oxytocin and human social behavior. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 14:281–295. doi: 10.1177/1088868310363594 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cardoso C, Linnen AM, Joober R, Ellenbogen MA (2011) Coping style moderates the effect of intranasal oxytocin on the mood response to interpersonal stress. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. doi: 10.1037/a0025763
  16. Carter C (1998) Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23:779–818PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Caspi A, Roberts BW, Shiner RL (2005) Personality development: stability and change. Annu Rev Psychol 56:453–484. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141913 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cohen S, Hoberman H (1983) Positive events and social supports as buffers of life change stress. J Appl Soc Psychol 58:304–309Google Scholar
  19. Costa PTJ, McCrae RR (1992) The NEO personality inventory (NEO-PI) and NEO five factor inventory (NEO-FFI) professional manual. Psychological Assessment Resources, OdessaGoogle Scholar
  20. Costa PTJ, Herbst JH, McCrae RR, Siegler IC (2000) Personality at midlife: stability, intrinsic maturation, and response to life events. Assessment 7:365–378PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. De Dreu CK, Greer LL, Handgraaf MJ et al (2010) The neuropeptide oxytocin regulates parochial altruism in intergroup conflict among humans. Science 328:1408–1411. doi: 10.1126/science.1189047 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. De Dreu CK, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Shalvi S, Handgraaf MJ (2011) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:1262–1266. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015316108 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Declerck CH, Boone C, Kiyonari T (2010) Oxytocin and cooperation under conditions of uncertainty: the modulating role of incentives and social information. Horm Behav 57:368–374. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.01.006 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. DeLongis A, Holtzman S (2005) Coping in context: the role of stress, social support, and personality in coping. J Pers 73:1633–1656. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00361.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Diamond LM (2004) Emerging perspectives on distinctions between romantic love and sexual desire. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 13:116–119. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00287.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ditzen B, Schaer M, Gabriel B, Bodenmann G, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M (2009) Intranasal oxytocin increases positive communication and reduces cortisol levels during couple conflict. Biol Psychiatry 65:728–731. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.10.011 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Downey G, Feldman SI (1996) Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. J Pers Soc Psychol 70:1327–1343. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.70.6.1327 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ellenbogen MA, Linnen AM, Grumet R, Cardoso C, Joober R (2011) The acute effects of intranasal oxytocin on automatic and effortful attentional shifting. Psychophysiology. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01278.x
  29. Gamer M, Zurowski B, Büchel C (2010) Different amygdala subregions mediate valence-related and attentional effects of oxytocin in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:9400–9405. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000985107 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gimpl G, Fahrenholz F (2001) The oxytocin receptor system: structure, function and regulation. Physiol Rev 81:629–683PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Glisky ML, Tataryn DJ, Tobias BA, Kihlstrom JF, McConkey KM (1991) Absorption, openness to experience, and hypnotizability. J Pers Soc Psychol 60:263–272PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Guastella AJ, Mitchell PB, Dadds MR (2008) Oxytocin increases gaze to the eye region of human faces. Biol Psychiatry 63:3–5. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.06.026 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Heinrichs M, von Dawans B, Domes G (2009) Oxytocin, vasopressin, and human social behavior. Front Neuroendocrinol 30:548–557. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2009.05.005 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Herbst JH, McCrae RR, Costa PT, Feaganes JR, Siegler IC (2000) Self-perceptions of stability and change in personality at midlife: the UNC alumni heart study. Assessment 7:379–388PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Insel TR (2010) The challenge of translation in social neuroscience: a review of oxytocin, vasopressin, and affiliative behavior. Neuron 65:768–779. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.005 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kirsch P, Esslinger C, Chen Q et al (2005) Oxytocin modulates neural circuitry for social cognition and fear in humans. J Neurosci 25:11489–11493. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3984-05.2005 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kosfeld M, Heinrichs M, Zak PK, Fischbacher U, Fehr E (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435:673–676. doi: 10.1038/nature03701 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Linnen AM, Ellenbogen MA, Cardoso C, Joober R (in press) Intranasal oxytocin and salivary cortisol concentration during social rejection in university students. StressGoogle Scholar
  39. Marsh AA, Yu HH, Pine DS, Blair RJ (2010) Oxytocin improves specific recognition of positive facial expressions. Psychopharmacology 209:225–232. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-1780-4 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McNair DM, Lorr M, Droppleman LF (1988) Manual for the profile of mood states. Educational and Industrial Testing Service, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  41. Meyer TJ, Miller ML, Metzger RL, Borkovec TD (1990) Development and validation of the Penn state worry questionnaire. Behav Res Ther 28:487–495PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mikolajczak M, Gross JJ, Lane A, Corneille O, de Timary P, Luminet O (2010a) Oxytocin makes people trusting, not gullible. Psychol Sci 21:1072–1074. doi: 10.1177/0956797610377343 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mikolajczak M, Pinon N, Lane A, de Timary P, Luminet O (2010b) Oxytocin not only increases trust when money is at stake, but also when confidential information is in the balance. Biol Psychol 85:182–184. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2010.05.010 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Naber F, van Ijzendoorn MH, Deschamps P, van Engeland H, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ (2010) Intranasal oxytocin increases fathers' observed responsiveness during play with their children: a double-blind within-subject experiment. Psychoneuroendocrinology 35:1583–1586. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.04.007 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Perry A, Bentin S, Shalev I et al (2010) Intranasal oxytocin modulates EEG mu/alpha and beta rhythms during perception of biological motion. Psychoneuroendocrinology 35:1446–1453. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.04.011 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rosenberg (1965) Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton Univ. Press, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  47. Shamay-Tsoory SG, Fischer M, Dvash J, Harari H, Perach-Bloom N, Levkovitz Y (2009) Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases envy and schadenfreude (gloating). Biol Psychiatry 66:864–870. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.06.009 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shiner RL (2000) Linking childhood personality with adaptation: evidence for continuity and change across time into late adolescence. J Personal Soc Psychol 78:310–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sobel ME (1982) Asymptotic intervals for indirect effects in structural equations models. In: Leinhart S (ed) Sociological methodology. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp 290–312Google Scholar
  50. Stroud LR, Tanofsky-Kraff M, Wilfley DE, Salovey P (2000) The Yale interpersonal stressor (YIPS): affective, physiological, and behavioural responses to a novel interpersonal rejection paradigm. Ann Behav Med 22:204–213PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stroud LR, Salovey P, Epel ES (2002) Sex differences in stress responses: social rejection versus achievement stress. Biol Psychiatry 52:318–327PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Theodoridou A, Rowe AC, Penton-Voak IS, Rogers PJ (2009) Oxytocin and social perception: oxytocin increases perceived facial trustworthiness and attractiveness. Horm Behav 56:128–132. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.03.019 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Unkelbach C, Guastella AJ, Forgas JP (2008) Oxytocin selectively facilitates recognition of positive sex and relationship words. Psychol Sci 19:1092–1094. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02206.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wrosch C, Scheier MF, Miller GE, Schulz R, Carver CS (2003) Adaptive self-regulation of unattainable goals: goal disengagement, goal reengagement, and subjective well-being. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 29:1494–1508. doi: 10.1177/0146167203256921 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Cardoso
    • 1
  • Mark A. Ellenbogen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anne-Marie Linnen
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Research in Human DevelopmentConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations