Unchanged food approach-avoidance behaviour of healthy men after oxytocin administration

Anna Melkonyan, Lu Liu*, Elliot C. Brown, Willi Meyer, Apoorva Rajiv Madipakkam, Lina Ringelmann, Franziska Lange, Sebastian M. Schmid, Thomas F. Münte, Soyoung Q. Park

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


The oxytocinergic system has been assumed to contribute to food intake, possibly via interactions with dopamine. However, so far, it is unknown whether oxytocin influences the underlying motivational behaviour towards food. In the present study, we used a food-based approach-avoidance task (AAT) in a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over design to compare intranasal oxytocin with a placebo. In the AAT, participants pushed or pulled a joystick when images of foods with a high or low craving rating were presented, where differences in response times typically reflect approach and avoidance motivational biases towards positively and negatively valence stimuli, respectively. Thirty-three healthy male participants (age = 25.12 ± 3.51 years; body mass index = 24.25 ± 2.48 kg/m2) completed the two-session study, one with placebo and the other with oxytocin. We used mixed-effects models to investigate effects of treatment (oxytocin, placebo), response type (approach, avoid) and stimulus (high, low craving). The results showed that both approach and avoid responses tended to be faster for foods higher in craving compared to foods lower in craving. Most importantly, we did not observe any significant effects of oxytocin compared to placebo in motivational behaviour towards food. Our study demonstrates a general response bias towards foods with different craving values, which could have implications for future studies investigating food-related behaviour. We discuss possible explanations for the null effects of oxytocin and suggest further investigation of the relationship between oxytocin, dopamine and food-reward processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12923
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 12.2020


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