Intranasal Oxytocin Failed to Affect Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) Social Behavior

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
D. Proctor, S. E. Calcutt, K. Burke, F. B. M. de Waal
Animal Behavior and Cognition
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Oxytocin has been suggested as a treatment to promote positive social interactions in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, it is difficult to test this effect outside of the laboratory in realistic social situations. One way to resolve this issue is to study behavioral changes in closely related species with complex social relationships, such as chimpanzees. Here, we use captive, socially housed chimpanzees to evaluate the effects of oxytocin in a socially complex environment. After administering intranasal oxytocin or a placebo to an individual chimpanzee (total n = 8), she was returned to her social group. An experimenter blind to the condition measured the subject’s social behavior. We failed to find a behavioral difference between conditions. As one of the goals for oxytocin administration as a treatment for ASD is increasing prosocial behaviors during ‘real world’ encounters, it is problematic that we failed to detect behavioral changes in our closest living relatives. However, our null findings may be related to methodological challenges such as determining an effective dose of oxytocin for chimpanzees and how long oxytocin takes to cross the blood-brain barrier. Thus, more research on intranasal oxytocin dosing and uptake are needed to continue exploring whether oxytocin changes social behavior in naturalistic settings and as a treatment for ASD.


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