Oxytocin Did Not Improve Social Cognition and Functioning in Schizophrenia

Intranasal medication
Intranasal medication
Investigators found data which showed that adjunctive intranasal oxytocin to ameliorate cognitive end points was a nonviable treatment for patients with schizophrenia.

According to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Brain Science, repeated administration of intranasal oxytocin did not affect measures of social cognition and functioning in adults with schizophrenia.  

The investigators of this randomized, double-blind, parallel group study sought to examine the efficacy of neuropeptide oxytocin as an adjunctive therapy to improve social cognition and social anxiety in patients with schizophrenia.

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The study included 28 patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder recruited from the Maryland Psychiatric Center’s Treatment Research Program and Outpatient Research Program. Following a 2-week lead-in period, participants were randomly assigned to receive repeated administration of intranasal oxytocin 20 IU twice daily (n=13) or matching placebo (n=15) for a study period of 3 weeks. The investigators measured the effect of oxytocin on 4 domains of social cognition (Theory of Mind, emotion perception and recognition, attributional styles, and social knowledge) as well as on social functioning end points, which were compared with measures performed at baseline.  

After 3 weeks, no significant effect on social cognition was observed for any outcome measures that favored oxytocin over placebo. However, the results are valuable, as they add to the body of literature reporting on the effects of adjunctive intranasal oxytocin on social cognition in patients with schizophrenia.

Limitations to the study were that a small sample population was used, and participants were not selected based on their level of social deficits. Furthermore, the study period may have been too short to effect change in social cognition and social functioning outcomes.

The investigators did not observe robust improvements in social cognition with repeated dosing of oxytocin in patients with schizophrenia. The researchers indicated there is a lack of effect of oxytocin on any domain of social cognition in schizophrenia.

The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, University of Maryland.


Lee MR, Wehring HJ, McMahon RP, et al. The effect of intranasal oxytocin on measures of social cognition in schizophrenia: a negative report [published online January 9, 2019]. J Psychiatr Brain Sci. doi: 10.20900/jpbs.20190001