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Unravelling the role of oxytocin in behavioural flexibility

Behavioural flexibility, which is the ability to appropriately adjust one’s behaviour in response to a changing environment, is associated with improved quality of life and a higher resilience to stressors.

About the project

Conversely, behavioural inflexibility is linked with several psychiatric illnesses, such as autism. Despite the key role for behavioural flexibility in health and wellbeing, its neurobiological basis remains elusive. Emerging evidence suggests that the hormone oxytocin plays a critical role in behavioural flexibility.

Thus, the primary objective of this project is to unravel oxytocin's role in behavioural flexibility by using an approach that combines outcomes from experimental, observational, and longitudinal studies. Intranasally administered oxytocin can increase oxytocin levels in the brain.

Thus, an experiment will be performed to assess oxytocin's effect on behavioural flexibility in response to shifting social and non-social information in men and women using two different intranasal oxytocin dosages, compared to a placebo intranasal spray. The role of oxytocin signalling gene variants on behavioural flexibility in adults will be explored using large population-based datasets. Recognising that the impact of oxytocin gene variants on behavioural flexibility is likely to change across the lifespan, this project will also investigate the interaction of oxytocin gene variants and environment in population-based longitudinal datasets across youth and the course of pregnancy.

Adaption to fast-changing environments is among the most valuable personal attributes for individuals navigating the complexities of daily life. Hence, this project represents an important effort to understand oxytocin’s role in behavioural flexibility, which will expand our understanding of the mind, psychiatric conditions associated with behavioural inflexibility, and intranasal oxytocin's potential as a therapeutic treatment.


The Research Council of Norway (FRIPRO - Researcher Project) 2021 - 2026.


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Published Nov. 1, 2021 10:29 AM - Last modified Mar. 22, 2022 10:32 AM