Oxytocin-Augmented Modular-Based Group Intervention for Loneliness: A Proof-Of-Concept Randomized Controlled Trial

Ruben Berger, Rene Hurlemann, Simone Shamay-Tsoory, Alisa Kanterman, Maura Brauser, Jessica Gorni, Maike Luhmann, Elisabeth Schramm, Johannes Schultz, Alexandra Philipsen, Jana Lieberz, Dirk Scheele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Loneliness poses a significant health problem and existing psychological interventions have shown only limited positive effects on loneliness. Based on preliminary evidence for impaired oxytocin signaling in trait-like loneliness, the current proof-of-concept study used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design to probe intranasal oxytocin (OT) as an adjunct to a short-term modular-based group intervention for individuals suffering from high trait-like loneliness (HL, UCLA Loneliness Scale ≥55). Methods: Seventy-eight healthy HL adults (56 women) received five weekly group psychotherapy sessions. HL participants received OT or placebo before the intervention sessions. Primary outcomes were trait-like loneliness measured at baseline, after the intervention, and again at two follow-up time points (3 weeks and 3 months), and, assessed at each session, state loneliness (visual analog scale), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale, PSS-10), quality of life (World Health Organization Five Well-Being Index, WHO-5), and the therapeutic relationship (Group Questionnaire, GQ-D). Results: The psychological intervention was associated with significantly reduced perceived stress and improved trait-like loneliness across treatment groups, which was still evident at the 3-month follow-up. OT had no significant effect on trait-like loneliness, quality of life, or perceived stress. However, compared to placebo, OT significantly facilitated the decrease in state loneliness within sessions and significantly improved positive bonding between the group members. Conclusion: Despite significantly improved trait-like loneliness after the intervention, OT did not significantly augment this effect. Further studies are needed to determine optimal intervention designs to translate the observed acute effects of OT into long-term benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-180
Number of pages12
JournalPsychotherapy and Psychosomatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 16 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 S. Karger AG, Basel.


  • Intervention
  • Oxytocin
  • Psychotherapy
  • State loneliness
  • Trait-like loneliness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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