Social approach and avoidance behaviour for negative emotions is modulated by endogenous oxytocin and paranoia in schizophrenia

Elliot C Brown, Cumhur Tas, Duygu Kuzu, Aysen Esen-Danaci, Karin Roelofs, Martin Brüne
Psychiatry Research 2014 November 30, 219 (3): 436-42
Patients with schizophrenia suffer from dysfunctional social behaviour. Social approach and avoidance (AA) has been associated with motor responses, as the affective valence and gaze direction of facial stimuli can bias push and pull motor tendencies. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of endogenous oxytocin in social AA behaviour in schizophrenia. Basal plasma oxytocin levels were collected from 28 patients who were then given a joystick-based Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT). Reaction times were recorded and AAT effect scores calculated for responses to happy and angry faces, which either had direct or averted gaze. Individual differences in basal oxytocin had a significant relationship with AAT responses, and patients with higher levels of oxytocin tended to avoid angry faces more. Furthermore, greater avoidance of angry faces was correlated with more severe psychotic (positive and general) symptoms and greater paranoia. This suggests that the endogenous effects of oxytocin may be specific to the interpretation of negative threatening emotions in schizophrenia patients, and also provides evidence that psychotic symptoms and paranoia can impact on social AA behaviour by heightening threat avoidance.

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