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Oxytocin and Facial Emotion Recognition

Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series (CTBN,volume 35)


The expression of emotion in faces serves numerous meaningful functions, such as conveying messages of danger or approach, facilitating communication, and promoting the formation of social bonds and relationships. The study of facial expressions of emotion has become integral to research in social psychology and social neuroscience, particularly with respect to the neuropeptide oxytocin. This chapter examines how oxytocin influences the processing of emotion in faces by reviewing intranasal administration studies of automatic processing, selective attention, and emotion recognition. Two important trends in the literature have been identified: exogenous oxytocin attenuates early attentional biases towards negative stimuli and increases selective attention and recognition of emotional cues in faces, particularly around the eyes. Both of these effects can be traced to well-delineated neural circuits involving amygdala, early visual processing areas, and reward circuits, and both purportedly facilitate approach-related behavior when affiliative opportunities are available. These data are integrated into a conceptual model incorporating contextual factors and moderating influences, as oxytocinergic effects on cognition and social behavior appear to vary in persons along indices of social competence, interpersonal sensitivity, and early adversity. Limitations of this literature and future directions for research are briefly discussed.


  • Emotion
  • Emotion recognition
  • Eye-tracking
  • Facial expressions
  • Information processing
  • Inhibition
  • Intranasal administration
  • Oxytocin
  • Selective attention

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  • DOI: 10.1007/7854_2017_20
  • Chapter length: 26 pages
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  • ISBN: 978-3-319-63739-6
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Correspondence to Mark A. Ellenbogen .

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Ellenbogen, M.A. (2017). Oxytocin and Facial Emotion Recognition. In: Hurlemann, R., Grinevich, V. (eds) Behavioral Pharmacology of Neuropeptides: Oxytocin. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, vol 35. Springer, Cham.

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