The role of oxytocin (OT) in social behaviours has long been considered. Some studies suggest that endogenous OT is a mediator of social relationships, while other studies have shown that the exogenous manipulation of OT may not impact social behaviour at all. Here, Handlin, Novembre et al. explored the top-down effect of partner/stranger touch on endogenous OT levels. When receiving touch from a partner, participant’s OT levels increased significantly, however this effect was dampened if the participant received touch from a stranger in the first trial block. Furthermore, activity in the hypothalamus and dorsal raphe nuclei, covaried with an increase of OT for the partner delivered touch, suggesting these regions are important in the synthesis of OT and valuation of this preferred touch type. These findings suggest that OT may facilitate the perception of a socially relevant stimulus based on personal experiences and preferences.
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Handlin, L., Novembre, G., Lindholm, H., Kämpe, R., & Morrison, I. (2021). Human endogenous oxytocin and its neural correlates show adaptive responses to social touch based on recent social context. bioRxiv, 2021.04.08.438987;