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Although potential links between oxytocin (OT), vasopressin (AVP), and social cognition are well-grounded theoretically, most studies have included all male samples, and few have demonstrated consistent effects of either neuropeptide on mentalizing (i.e. understanding the mental states of others). To understand the potential of either neuropeptide as a pharmacological treatment for individuals with impairments in social cognition, it is important to demonstrate the beneficial effects of OT and AVP on mentalizing in healthy individuals.
In the present randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (n = 186) of healthy individuals, we examined the effects of OT and AVP administration on behavioral responses and neural activity in response to a mentalizing task.
Relative to placebo, neither drug showed an effect on task reaction time or accuracy, nor on whole-brain neural activation or functional connectivity observed within brain networks associated with mentalizing. Exploratory analyses included several variables previously shown to moderate OT's effects on social processes (e.g., self-reported empathy, alexithymia) but resulted in no significant interaction effects.
Results add to a growing literature demonstrating that intranasal administration of OT and AVP may have a more limited effect on social cognition, at both the behavioral and neural level, than initially assumed. Randomized controlled trial registrations: ClinicalTrials.gov; NCT02393443; NCT02393456; NCT02394054.
The goals of empirical research in social psychology can be differentiated into three broad categories: demonstration, causation, and explanation. Research performed for the purpose of demonstration is conducted to establish empirically the existence of a phenomenon or relationship. The tripartite distinction between internal, external, and construct validity, provides the basis for organizing the discussion of validity issues. Construct validity refers to inferences made at both stages of research linking concepts to operations. The chapter uses the concept of demand characteristics to illustrate the difference between methodological confounds (which affect construct validity) and methodological artifacts. Construct validity represents one form of generalizing from the observed results of an empirical study to conclusions that go beyond the results themselves. The debate includes discussions of whether there are necessary trade-offs among the various aspects of validity or whether it is possible to demand that research maximize internal, external, and construct validity simultaneously.