Note to users. If you're seeing this message, it means that your browser cannot find this page's style/presentation instructions -- or possibly that you are using a browser that does not support current Web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing, and what you can do to make your experience of our site the best it can be.


Logo for

PNAS 103 (20): 7889-7894

Copyright © 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences.


Sex-specific influences of vasopressin on human social communication

R. R. Thompson*,{dagger}, K. George*, J. C. Walton*, S. P. Orr{ddagger},§, and J. Benson*

*Psychology Department and Neuroscience Program, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011; {ddagger}Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114; and §Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Manchester, NH 03104

Edited by Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, and approved April 6, 2006

Received for publication January 16, 2006.

Abstract: Arginine vasopressin (AVP) and related peptides affect social behaviors in numerous species, but AVP influences on human social functions have not yet been established. Here, we describe how intranasal AVP administration differentially affects social communication in men and women, and we propose a mechanism through which it may exert those influences. In men, AVP stimulates agonistic facial motor patterns in response to the faces of unfamiliar men and decreases perceptions of the friendliness of those faces. In contrast, in women, AVP stimulates affiliative facial motor patterns in response to the faces of unfamiliar women and increases perceptions of the friendliness of those faces. AVP also affected autonomic responsiveness to threatening faces and increased anxiety, which may underlie both communication patterns by promoting different social strategies in stressful contexts in men and women.

Key Words: affiliation • aggression • anxiety • autism • emotion

Author contributions: R.R.T. and S.P.O. designed research; K.G., J.C.W., and J.B. performed research; J.B. screened medical records of potential subjects and examined them before allowing subjects to participate; R.R.T. and S.P.O. analyzed data; and R.R.T. wrote the paper.

Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

This paper was submitted directly (Track II) to the PNAS office.

{dagger}To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: rthompso{at}

© 2006 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA

MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior.
C. M. Hysek, Y. Schmid, L. D. Simmler, G. Domes, M. Heinrichs, C. Eisenegger, K. H. Preller, B. B. Quednow, and M. E. Liechti (2013)
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Vasopressin V1a and V1b Receptors: From Molecules to Physiological Systems.
T.-a. Koshimizu, K. Nakamura, N. Egashira, M. Hiroyama, H. Nonoguchi, and A. Tanoue (2012)
Physiol Rev 92, 1813-1864
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Cognition matters in cardiovascular disease and heart failure.
C. E. Angermann, A. Frey, and G. Ertl (2012)
Eur. Heart J. 33, 1721-1723
   Full Text »    PDF »
The Neurogenetics of Nice: Receptor Genes for Oxytocin and Vasopressin Interact With Threat to Predict Prosocial Behavior.
M. J. Poulin, E. A. Holman, and A. Buffone (2012)
Psychological Science 23, 446-452
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Expression of early growth response protein 1 in vasopressin neurones of the rat anterior olfactory nucleus following social odour exposure.
D. W. Wacker, V. A. Tobin, J. Noack, V. R. Bishop, A. J. Duszkiewicz, M. Engelmann, S. L. Meddle, and M. Ludwig (2010)
J. Physiol. 588, 4705-4717
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Hormonal mechanisms of cooperative behaviour.
M. C. Soares, R. Bshary, L. Fusani, W. Goymann, M. Hau, K. Hirschenhauser, and R. F. Oliveira (2010)
Phil Trans R Soc B 365, 2737-2750
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Oxytocin and Human Social Behavior.
A. Campbell (2010)
Personality and Social Psychology Review 14, 281-295
   Abstract »    PDF »
Vasopressin Modulates Medial Prefrontal Cortex-Amygdala Circuitry during Emotion Processing in Humans.
C. F. Zink, J. L. Stein, L. Kempf, S. Hakimi, and A. Meyer-Lindenberg (2010)
J. Neurosci. 30, 7017-7022
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Oxytocin enhances processing of positive versus negative emotional information in healthy male volunteers.
M Di Simplicio, R Massey-Chase, P. Cowen, and C. Harmer (2009)
J Psychopharmacol 23, 241-248
   Abstract »    PDF »
Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and the Neurogenetics of Sociality.
Z. R. Donaldson and L. J. Young (2008)
Science 322, 900-904
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
BMJ 332, 1222
   Full Text »    PDF »

To Advertise     Find Products

Science Signaling. ISSN 1937-9145 (online), 1945-0877 (print). Pre-2008: Science's STKE. ISSN 1525-8882