The mechanisms underlying the role of oxytocin (OT) as a regulator of social behavior in mammals are only partly understood. Recently, it has been proposed that OT increases the salience of social stimuli. We carried out a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study of the effects of OT on binocular rivalry, a visual phenomenon underpinned by the interplay of excitation and inhibition in the cortex. A final sample of 45 participants viewed images of social stimuli (faces with different emotional expressions) and non-social stimuli (houses and Gabor patches). We demonstrate a robust effect that intranasal OT increases the salience of human faces in binocular rivalry, such that dominance durations of faces are longer—this effect is not modulated by the facial expression. We tentatively show that OT treatment increases dominance durations for non-social stimuli. Our results lend support to the social salience hypothesis of OT, and in addition offer provisional support for the role of OT in influencing excitation-inhibition balance in the brain.
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