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PNAS 103 (20): 7889-7894

Copyright © 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences.


BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES / SOCIAL SCIENCES / NEUROSCIENCE / PSYCHOLOGY

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}bowdoin.edu

© 2006 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA


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