Inhaled oxytocin amplifies both vicarious reinforcement and self reinforcement in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)
Steve W C Chang, Joseph W Barter, R Becket Ebitz, Karli K Watson, and Michael L Platt
January 17, 2012
vol. 109, no. 3, 959–964
People attend not only to their own experiences, but also to the experiences of those around them. Such social awareness profoundly influences human behavior by enabling observational learning, as well as by motivating cooperation, charity, empathy, and spite. Oxytocin (OT), a neurosecretory hormone synthesized by hypothalamic neurons in the mammalian brain, can enhance affiliation or boost exclusion in different species in distinct contexts, belying any simple mechanistic neural model. Here we show that inhaled OT penetrates the CNS and subsequently enhances the sensitivity of rhesus macaques to rewards occurring to others as well as themselves. Roughly 2 h after inhaling OT, monkeys increased the frequency of prosocial choices associated with reward to another monkey when the alternative was to reward no one. OT also increased attention to the recipient monkey as well as the time it took to render such a decision. In contrast, within the first 2 h following inhalation, OT increased selfish choices associated with delivery of reward to self over a reward to the other monkey, without affecting attention or decision latency. Despite the differences in species typical social behavior, exogenous, inhaled OT causally promotes social donation behavior in rhesus monkeys, as it does in more egalitarian and monogamous ones, like prairie voles and humans, when there is no perceived cost to self. These findings potentially implicate shared neural mechanisms.