Conflicts of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Research Review: Social motivation and oxytocin in autism – implications for joint attention development and intervention
Article first published online: 2 MAR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2013 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume 54, Issue 6, pages 603–618, June 2013
How to Cite
Stavropoulos, K. K. M. and Carver, L. J. (2013), Research Review: Social motivation and oxytocin in autism – implications for joint attention development and intervention. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54: 603–618. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12061
- Issue published online: 22 MAY 2013
- Article first published online: 2 MAR 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 5 DEC 2012
- Autism Speaks' Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship. Grant Number: 7844
- National Institute of Health/ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- National Institute of Health/ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Grant Number: NIH/NICHD R01 HD052804-01A2
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke/National Institute of Health. Grant Number: NINDS/NIH R01NS071580-01
- Autism spectrum disorders;
- behavioral interventions;
- social motivation hypothesis
Background and scope
The social motivation hypothesis (SMH) suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are less intrinsically rewarded by social stimuli than their neurotypical peers. This difference in social motivation has been posited as a factor contributing to social deficits in ASD. Social motivation is thought to involve the neuropeptide oxytocin. Here, we review the evidence for oxytocin effects in ASD, and discuss its potential role in one important social cognitive behavior.
Systematic searches were conducted using the PsychINFO and MEDLINE databases and the search terms ‘oxytocin’ and ‘autism’; the same databases were used for separate searches for ‘joint attention’, ‘intervention’, and ‘autism’, using the same inclusion criteria as an earlier 2011 review but updating it for the period 2010 to October 2012.
Several studies suggest that giving oxytocin to both individuals with ASD and neurotypical individuals can enhance performance on social cognitive tasks. Studies that have attempted to intervene in joint attention in ASD suggest that social motivation may be a particular obstacle to lasting effects.
The review of the evidence for the SMH suggests a potential role for oxytocin in social motivation deficits in ASD. Because of its importance for later communicative and social development, the focus here is on implications of oxytocin and social motivation in the development of and interventions in joint attention. Joint attention is a central impairment in ASD, and as a result is the focus of several behavioral interventions. In describing this previous research on joint attention interventions in ASD, we pay particular attention to problems encountered in such studies, and propose ways that oxytocin may facilitate behavioral intervention in this area. For future research, integrating behavioral and pharmacological interventions (oxytocin administration) would be a worthwhile experimental direction to improve understanding of the role of oxytocin in ASD and help optimize outcomes for children with ASD.