March 8, 2007

Can we improve mind reading?

oxytocin.pngIs it possible to improve our ability to read other’s minds? In the case of mind-reading disabilities such as that found in autism spectrum disorder, it has been suggested that it is possible to train patients to become better at reading other’s minds.

What, then about pharmacological interventions? Is there an “empathy drug” that makes us more empathic? In a priority communication in Biological Psychiatry, Domes et al. report that the administration of oxitocin (relative to placebo effect) improves the ability to infer the mental state of others from social cues of the eye region. Hubmed abstract; Full Text.

Oxytocin improves “mind-reading” in humans.
Domes G, Heinrichs M, Michel A, Berger C, Herpertz SC
Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Mar 15; 61(6): 731-3

BACKGROUND: The ability to “read the mind” of other individuals, that is, to infer their mental state by interpreting subtle social cues, is indispensable in human social interaction. The neuropeptide oxytocin plays a central role in social approach behavior in nonhuman mammals.

METHODS: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject design, 30 healthy male volunteers were tested for their ability to infer the affective mental state of others using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) after intranasal administration of 24 IU oxytocin.

RESULTS: Oxytocin improved performance on the RMET compared with placebo. This effect was pronounced for difficult compared with easy items.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that oxytocin improves the ability to infer the mental state of others from social cues of the eye region. Oxytocin might play a role in the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorder, which is characterized by severe social impairment.


  1. Is this the beginning of the end of psychology?

    Comment by Rudolf Scheutz — March 30, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  2. How long does the effect last? How expensive is it? Could this be used to treat autism and aspergers syndrome?

    Comment by Elizabeth Hensley — October 17, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

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