Oxytocin improves mentalizing - Pronounced effects for individuals with attenuated ability to empathize

Melanie Feeser, Yan Fan, Anne Weigand, Adam Hahn, Matti Gärtner, Heinz Böker, Simone Grimm, Malek Bajbouj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (SciVal)


The ability to predict the behavior of others based on their mental states is crucial for social functioning. Previous studies have provided evidence for the role of Oxytocin (OXT) in enhancing the ability to mentalize. It has also been demonstrated that the effect of OXT seems to strongly depend on socio-cognitive skills with more pronounced effects in individuals with lower socio-cognitive skills. Although recent studies indicate that mentalizing is related to empathy, no study has yet examined whether the effects of OXT on mentalizing depend on the ability to empathize.71 male participants participated in a double-blind, between-subjects, placebo-controlled experiment. The Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET) was used to investigate mentalizing abilities. We analyzed the effect of OXT on easy and difficult items of the RMET depending on differential empathy scores of the participants as assessed with the Empathy Quotient (EQ).Our results showed that OXT improves mentalizing for difficult but not for easy items. We generally observed increased mentalizing accuracy in participants with higher empathy scores. Importantly, however, whereas the performance in participants with higher empathy scores was comparable in both OXT and placebo condition, OXT specifically enhanced mentalizing accuracy in participants with lower empathy scores. Our findings suggest that OXT enhances mentalizing abilities. However, we also demonstrate that not all participants benefited from OXT application. It seems that the effects of OXT strongly depend on baseline social-cognitive skills such as empathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-232
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Empathy
  • Mentalizing
  • Neuropeptide
  • Oxytocin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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