- Published: November 22, 2012
Several studies have displayed the effects that oxytocin, a neuropeptide, can have on the brain. It has been shown to broadly influence complex social behaviors, which include pair bonding and attachment to others. However, a recent study by Krueger et. al. in 2012 implicated the power of oxytocin in our perceptions of harm to victims. The study found that when a third-party was presented with certain vignettes involving a crime, those with exogenous oxytocin administered felt greater empathy for the victim of the crime. However, there was not an increased desire to punish the offenders between the oxytocin group and the control group. The study concluded that oxytocin must have played a role in promoting the empathetic response from the third party for the victim of the crime, and future research can use these findings to possibly help treat psychopaths and other personality disorders. Psychopaths, in particular, have been shown to lack empathy for their actions, and there still is not an effective treatment for these individuals. An exogenous treatment, such as oxytocin, along with other forms of therapy may provide a solution to this problem.
However, we must proceed with caution. Although the above study shows a lot of promise for oxytocin and its effects on a person’s empathy, this may not affect all humans the same across the board. An example of this can be found in the Bartz et. al. study in 2010. In this study, the researchers took the known effects of oxytocin, specifically its ability to increase trust and cooperation in a group, and applied it to a group of individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. When compared against the control group, the exogenous treatment with oxytocin showed divergent results for the individuals with borderline personality disorder. In fact, oxytocin was shown to decrease trust and cooperation amongst those with the disorder. These findings point to the fact that those with borderline personality disorder may have brains that function differently and will respond differently to treatment with oxytocin. As a result, not everyone will react in a similar fashion to oxytocin and will not see similar results, partially because our biology is very different from individual to individual.
So what should we do moving forward? Obviously, we still have a long way to go to help the many individuals suffering from psychopathy and other personality disorders. With more research being done, it does not seem that a singular, across the board treatment will be effective for every individual in a certain category of disorder. Instead, treatments will have to be developed on a case-to-case basis. One person may benefit from exogenous treatment with oxytocin, but another individual may not see similar results. More knowledge from brain scans and neuroimaging will help us make progress in the understanding of the different neuropeptides in our system, and this could help lay the groundwork for treating the many personality disorders. Ultimately, we are beginning to understand that a simple solution to the complex problems of psychopathy and personality disorders may be more elusive than previously thought.
Krueger, Frank, Raja Parasuraman, et al. "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience." Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. (2012): n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. http://scan.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.rice.edu/content/early/2012/03/24/scan.nss026.full.pdf.
Bartz, Jennifer, Daphne Simeon, et al. "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience ." Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience . (2010): n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/11/28/scan.nsq085.full.pdf.