The effect of oxytocin on psychopathy and Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Research type

    Research Study

  • Full title

    The effect of intranasal oxytocin on the brain processing of adult subjects with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and criminal psychopathy, or autism spectrum disorder, compared to healthy controls



  • Contact name

    Declan Murphy

  • Contact email

  • Sponsor organisation

    King's College London

  • Duration of Study in the UK

    2 years, 0 months, 1 days

  • Research summary

    There are some people in society who commit crimes and suffer from what is called Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) – this means that there are aspects to their personality that make them more antisocial, and make them more likely to commit a crime. One subgroup of those with ASPD, criminal psychopaths, have a very extreme form of personality disorder – and their personality makes them very dangerous to others. Such psychopaths have a callous unconcern for the feelings of others. People with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, also find it difficult to relate to others, and we will also include these people in our study. The reasons why both sets of these individuals behave the way they do are complex, but we think that if you could increase their ability to have feelings for other people, you could significantly change the way they act towards other people.

    In our study, we propose to use a natural compound (oxytocin) that can be safely delivered via a nasal spray and that is known to increase feelings of warmth and attachment towards other people. Oxytocin is a hormone produced naturally by the body but we will be using a synthetic version.

    To see if it works, we plan to do brain scans on these people, and see how they respond to different facial expressions (happy, sad, disgust and fear), and also how they respond to a ‘reward-based’ task. We want to see if giving oxytocin will change the way their brains handle the different facial expressions and reward tasks. This will give us scientific evidence as to whether or not oxytocin makes a difference to the way they relate to others.

    This study is important because if oxytocin does work, then it could potentially be used as a treatment for these people. Treatment of psychopaths by increasing their ability to have feelings about others could make them safer, commit less crime, and could also significantly improve their quality of life and interpersonal relationships. For those with autism and Asperger’s, a treatment would help them to relate better to others and improve how they function in society. If oxytocin does not work, and there is something about the brains of these groups of people that means they can’t empathise with others, then we would like to use the results from this pilot study to develop a test, using oxytocin, to diagnose these disorders.

  • REC name

    London - City & East Research Ethics Committee

  • REC reference


  • Date of REC Opinion

    5 Sep 2015

  • REC opinion

    Further Information Favourable Opinion