Oxytocin increases physiological linkage during group therapy for methamphetamine use disorder: a randomized clinical trial

Katherine R. Thorson, Scott M. McKernan, Tessa V. West, Joshua D. Woolley, Wendy Berry Mendes, Christopher S. Stauffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients and psychotherapists often exhibit behavioral, psychological, and physiological similarity. Here, we test whether oxytocin—a neuropeptide that can enhance expressivity and social perception—influences time-lagged “linkage” of autonomic nervous system responses among participants and facilitators during group therapy. Physiological linkage estimates (n = 949) were created from ten cohorts, each with two facilitators (n = 5) and four to six participants (n = 48), over six weekly sessions of group therapy for methamphetamine use disorder. All participants of a cohort received oxytocin or placebo intranasally in a randomized double-blind procedure before each session. Cardiac interbeat intervals (IBI) were measured continuously during sessions to estimate physiological linkage, operationalized as one cohort-mate’s IBI reactivity during one minute predicting another cohort-mate’s IBI reactivity during the following minute. In oxytocin cohorts, participants and facilitators experienced significant physiological linkage to their cohort-mates (i.e., their physiological responses were predicted by the prior responses of their cohort-mates) and significantly more linkage than people in placebo cohorts. Both effects occurred during the first and second sessions but not later sessions. Results suggest that oxytocin may enhance psychosocial processes often associated with linkage—such as social engagement—in groups and highlight oxytocin’s potential to improve group cohesion during group therapy. Clinical Trials Registration: NCT02881177, First published on 26/08/2016.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21004
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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