Numerous studies on pro-social effect of oxytocin have generated interest in oxytocin’s potential to ameliorate social deficits in such disorders as social phobias and autism. Bartz et al suggest that oxytocin might increase the salience of social cues by altering specific motivational or cognitive states. If this is the case, the effects of oxytocin might be most pronounced in individuals who, at baseline, are less socially proficient. They examined a group of 27 healthy men (average age of 27), using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover challenge in which participants received either intranasal oxytocin or a placebo and performed an empathic-accuracy task that naturalistically measures social-cognitive abilities. They also measured variance in baseline social competencies with the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a self-report instrument developed by Baron-Cohen and others that predicts social-cognitive performance.
They found that normal variance in baseline social-cognitive competence moderates the effects of oxytocin; specifically, oxytocin improved empathic accuracy only for less socially proficient individuals. These findings constitute evidence against the popular view that oxytocin acts as a universal prosocial enhancer that can render all people social-cognitive experts. Instead, oxytocin appears to play a more nuanced role in social cognition, and helps only some people.
Here is a figure of their data:
Figure - Results of the regression analysis: predicted empathic accuracy as a function of Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) raw score for the oxytocin condition (dashed line) and placebo condition (solid line). The dotted curves indicate 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Lower numbers on the AQ reflect greater social-cognitive proficiency. Higher numbers on the empathic-accuracy index reflect superior performance. Predicted values are shown only for observed levels of the AQ; the predictive equation is as follows: empathic accuracy = 0.44 + 0.048(drug condition) – 0.018(AQ) + 0.018(Drug Condition × AQ).