Nasal oxytocin administration does not influence eye gaze or perceived relationship of male volunteers with physicians in a simulated online consultation: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial

Chiara Jongerius*, Marij A. Hillen, Ellen M.A. Smets, Mathijs J. Mol, Eefje S. Kooij, Maria A. de Nood, Edwin S. Dalmaijer, Eric Fliers, Johannes A. Romijn, Daniel S. Quintana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

The patient–physician relationship is a critical determinant of patient health outcomes. Verbal and non-verbal communication, such as eye gaze, are vital aspects of this bond. Neurobiological studies indicate that oxytocin may serve as a link between increased eye gaze and social bonding. Therefore, oxytocin signaling could serve as a key factor influencing eye gaze as well as the patient–physician relationship. We aimed to test the effects of oxytocin on gaze to the eyes of the physician and the patient–physician relationship by conducting a randomized placebo-controlled crossover trial in healthy volunteers with intranasally administered oxytocin (with a previously effective single dose of 24 IU, EudraCT number 2018-004081-34). The eye gaze of 68 male volunteers was studied using eye tracking during a simulated video call consultation with a physician, who provided information about vaccination against the human papillomavirus. Relationship outcomes, including trust, satisfaction, and perceived physician communication style, were measured using questionnaires and corrected for possible confounds (social anxiety and attachment orientation). Additional secondary outcome measures for the effect of oxytocin were recall of information and pupil diameter and exploratory outcomes included mood and anxiety measures. Oxytocin did not affect the eye-tracking parameters of volunteers’ gaze toward the eyes of the physician. Moreover, oxytocin did not affect the parameters of bonding between volunteers and the physician nor other secondary and exploratory outcomes in this setting. Bayesian hypothesis testing provided evidence for the absence of effects. These results contradict the notion that oxytocin affects eye gaze patterns or bonding.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere220377
JournalEndocrine Connections
Volume12
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Research Council of Norway (301767, 324783).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 the author(s) Published by Bioscientifica Ltd.

Keywords

  • crossover trial
  • eye gaze
  • eye-tracking
  • oxytocin
  • patient-physician relationship

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