A1 Journal article (refereed)
Oxytocin reduces romantic rejection-induced pain in online speed-dating as revealed by decreased frontal-midline theta oscillations (2021)

Zhang, X., Li, P., Otieno, S. C., Li, H., & Leppänen, P. H. (2021). Oxytocin reduces romantic rejection-induced pain in online speed-dating as revealed by decreased frontal-midline theta oscillations. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 133, Article 105411. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2021.105411

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Zhang, Xukai; Li, Peng; Otieno, Susannah C.S.A.; Li, Hong; Leppänen, Paavo H.T.

Journal or series: Psychoneuroendocrinology

ISSN: 0306-4530

eISSN: 1873-3360

Publication year: 2021

Volume: 133

Article number: 105411

Publisher: Elsevier

Publication country: United States

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2021.105411

Publication open access: Not open

Publication channel open access:


Romantic rejection is an emotionally distressful experience profoundly affecting life, possibly leading to mental illness or suicide. Oxytocin (OT) is a neuropeptide widely implicated in reducing physical pain and negative emotions; however, whether OT has an effect on reducing intense social pain (e.g., romantic rejection) remains unknown. Here, we tested the effect of OT on social pain and investigated its role in the outcome evaluation phase of social decision-making.

Electroencephalographic recordings were obtained between August 2nd and October 20th, 2020 in Shenzhen University from 61 healthy participants in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a between-subject design. We defined frontal-midline theta oscillation as a neural signature of social pain and assessed self-reported pleasantness ratings for four possible romantic outcomes in an online speed-dating task.

In the placebo group, greater theta power was induced by romantic rejection, being associated with rejection distress. This pattern was not observed in the OT group, where romantic rejection induced significantly decreased theta power compared to the placebo group; in the OT group, there was no association between theta power and rejection distress. Furthermore, the frontal-midline theta oscillation could be source-localized to brain areas overlapping with the physical-social pain matrix (i.e., somatosensory cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, frontal pole, and supplementary motor area).

OT relieves social pain caused by romantic rejection, reflected in decreased frontal-midline theta oscillations and a diminished connection between theta power and rejection distress. These findings can help understand and harness OT’s pain-reducing effect on social pain.

Keywords: dating services; emotions; pain; sense of pain; oxytocin; EEG

Free keywords: Analgesic effect; Electroencephalography; Intranasal oxytocin; Social pain; Source localization; Theta oscillation

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Ministry reporting: Yes

Preliminary JUFO rating: 2

Last updated on 2021-16-09 at 16:48