Intranasal inhalation of oxytocin improves face processing in developmental prosopagnosia

Sarah Bate, Sarah J Cook, Bradley Duchaine, Jeremy J Tree, Edwin J Burns, Timothy L Hodgson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Developmental prosopagnosia (DP) is characterised by a severe lifelong impairment in face recognition. In recent years it has become clear that DP affects a substantial number of people, yet little work has attempted to improve face processing in these individuals. Intriguingly, recent evidence suggests that intranasal inhalation of the hormone oxytocin can improve face processing in unimpaired participants, and we investigated whether similar findings might be noted in DP. Ten adults with DP and 10 matched controls were tested using a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind within-subject experimental design (AB-BA). Each participant took part in two testing sessions separated by a 14-25 day interval. In each session, participants inhaled 24 IU of oxytocin or placebo spray, followed by a 45 min resting period to allow central oxytocin levels to plateau. Participants then completed two face processing tests: one assessing memory for a set of newly encoded faces, and one measuring the ability to match simultaneously presented faces according to identity. Participants completed the Multidimensional Mood Questionnaire (MMQ) at three points in each testing session to assess the possible mood-altering effects of oxytocin and to control for attention and wakefulness. Statistical comparisons revealed an improvement for DP but not control participants on both tests in the oxytocin condition, and analysis of scores on the MMQ indicated that the effect cannot be attributed to changes in mood, attention or wakefulness. This investigation provides the first evidence that oxytocin can improve face processing in DP, and the potential neural underpinnings of the findings are discussed alongside their implications for the treatment of face processing disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
Early online date27 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2014


  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory/physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxytocin/administration & dosage
  • Prosopagnosia/drug therapy
  • Psychomotor Performance/drug effects
  • Visual Perception/drug effects
  • Wechsler Scales


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