Hormone Linked to Social Skills in Autism

Autism is linked to differences in a hormone that influences social interaction

(RxWiki News) Oxytocin is a hormone that is known to be involved in the feelings of connectedness with others. New research links levels of oxytocin with social functioning in autism.

A recent study found that people with autism may have lower levels of oxytocin than people without, and this may contribute to poor social function.

The preliminary findings of the study support more research into the use of oxytocin as a supplement to improve social feelings.

"Talk to your psychiatrist about improving social skills"

A study at Emory University by Elisar Andari, PhD, looked at the levels of oxytocin in 13 patients with autism and 30 healthy participants and found that blood levels of oxytocin were lower in children with autism.

They also asked the people with autism to participate in a social activity after taking a nasal dose of oxytocin, designed to raise blood levels of the hormone, or a saline solution as a comparison.

After the social activity, patients reported their feelings of trust and connectedness with the other people in the activity. The patients who took oxytocin reported more feelings of trust for the other people in the activity.

Feelings of trust towards others are known to increase positive feelings about social interactions and feelings of connectedness with others.

The study also asked people without autism to take a personality test and found that levels of oxytocin were related to their social personality. 

People that were more introverted, less social, had lower levels than people who were very social.

The researchers concluded that levels of oxytocin are directly related to how people socialize and their feelings about social connectedness. Low levels of oxytocin for people with autism may contribute to their social issues, and supplementing oxytocin may be a way to increase social feelings in people with autism.

This study was small, however, so it is unclear how these findings will repeat in larger populations. More research is needed on the risks and benefits of oxytocin as a treatment.

This study was presented on May 17 at the International Meeting on Autism Research in Toronto Canada. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists may not have had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.

Review Date: 
May 22, 2012