When Does Oxytocin Affect Human Memory Encoding? The Role of Social Context and Individual Attachment Style

The neuropeptide oxytocin plays an essential role in regulating social behavior and has been implicated in a variety of human cognitive processes in the social domain, including memory processes. The present study investigates the influence of oxytocin on human memory encoding, taking into account s...

Authors: Wagner, Ullrich
Echterhoff, Gerald
Division/Institute:FB 07: Psychologie und Sportwissenschaft
Document types:Article
Media types:Text
Publication date:2018
Date of publication on miami:23.05.2019
Modification date:23.05.2019
Edition statement:[Electronic ed.]
Source:Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 12 (2018) 349, 1-11
Subjects:oxytocin; memory encoding; social context; adult attachment style; joint action task
DDC Subject:150: Psychologie
License:CC BY 4.0
Language:English
Funding:Finanziert durch den Open-Access-Publikationsfonds 2018 der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) und der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster (WWU Münster).
Format:PDF document
URN:urn:nbn:de:hbz:6-14199505875
Permalink:http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:hbz:6-14199505875
Other Identifiers:DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00349
Digital documents:artikel_wagner_2018.pdf

The neuropeptide oxytocin plays an essential role in regulating social behavior and has been implicated in a variety of human cognitive processes in the social domain, including memory processes. The present study investigates the influence of oxytocin on human memory encoding, taking into account social context and personality, which have previously been neglected as moderators for how oxytocin affects memory encoding. To examine the role of social context of encoding, we employed an established experimental paradigm in which participants perform a word-categorization task in either a joint (social) or individual (non-social) setting. To investigate the role of socially relevant personality factors, participants’ adult attachment style (AAS) was assessed. Previous research has identified attachment style as a potent moderator of oxytocin effects in the social-cognitive domain, but here we investigated for the first time its role in memory encoding. Participants were invited in pairs and received either placebo or oxytocin intranasally. Forty-five minutes later, they were instructed to react to different word categories within a list of successively presented words. This task was performed individually in the non-social condition and simultaneously with the partner in the social condition. After a 24-h delay, memory for all words was tested individually in a surprise recognition memory test. Oxytocin effects on memory accuracy depended on participants’ AAS. Specifically, oxytocin positively affected memory for participants who scored low on attachment dependence (who find dependence on others uncomfortable), but negatively affected memory for high scorers (who are comfortable depending on others). Oxytocin effects were not moderated by social vs. non-social context at encoding, and we discuss reasons for this outcome. Regardless of encoding condition or personality, oxytocin led to more liberal responding in the recognition memory test, which was also reflected in significantly higher false alarm rates (FARs) and a trend towards higher hit rates (HRs) compared to placebo. Overall, our results are consistent with an interactionist view on oxytocin effects on human cognitive functioning. Future research should further examine how oxytocin affects response biases via previous encoding and the ways in which biological dispositions linked to attachment style affect the process of memory encoding.