The role of oxytocin in empathy in PTSD

Sharon Palgi, Ehud Klein, Simone Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Although impairments in social skills are common in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), only a handful of studies have investigated the empathic abilities of patients with PTSD. The first aim of this study was to characterize emotional and cognitive empathy deficits among patients with PTSD. Furthermore, intranasal oxytocin (OT) has been reported as possibly improving emotional empathy, and it has recently been suggested that patients with PTSD may suffer from abnormal functioning of the oxytocinergic system. Therefore, the second aim of this study was to investigate whether intranasal OT may enhance empathic abilities in these patients. Method: Using a randomized, double-blind, placebocontrolled crossover design, we administered 24 International Units of oxytocin and placebo at a 1-week interval to 32 patients with PTSD and to 30 matched healthy controls and then measured participants' emotional and cognitive empathy. Results: Patients with PTSD exhibited deficits in both emotional and cognitive empathy, and these deficits were associated with the severity of their PTSD symptoms. The administration of OT did not improve empathic abilities in our sample, although it did tend to selectively enhance the ability of men with PTSD to recognize body motions of anger. Conclusions: These results indicate that patients with PTSD have deficits in both emotional and cognitive empathic abilities and that their empathic difficulties may underlie their impairments in social and interpersonal skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-75
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • Empathy
  • Oxytocin
  • PTSD
  • Theory of Mind
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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