The results showed that, compared with placebo sessions, when children received oxytocin they showed greater activity in the "social brain," which includes regions that process social information and are linked to reward, social perception and emotional awareness.
In contrast, oxytocin seemed to decrease the activity of the brain's social regions when children were engaged in a task that was not related to social processing, such as labeling the category of vehicles shown in pictures of cars.
In other words, the hormone seemed to help attune the brain to the difference between social and nonsocial stimuli, according to the study, published today (Dec. 2) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, Gordon said the findings do not mean that one dose of the hormone would treat social deficits in people with autism. "It means that there's a change in the brain that we read as positive and exciting, but we need to learn how to utilize it to create a change in real-life behavior," she said.