The nonapeptide arginine vasopressin (AVP) plays an important role in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation and also functions as a social hormone in a wide variety of species, from voles to humans. In the current report we use a variety of stress inducing tasks, including the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and intranasal administration of AVP to show that intranasal administration of this neuropeptide leads to a significant increase in salivary cortisol and pulse rate, specifically in conditions where subjects perform tasks in the presence of a social evaluative threat (task performance could be negatively judged by others). In contrast, in conditions without a social evaluative threat (no task condition, modified TSST without audience and bike ergometry), subjects receiving AVP did not differ from subjects receiving placebo. Thus exogenous AVP's influence is contingent upon a circumscribed set of initial conditions that constitute a direct threat to the maintenance of our social selves. Stress evoked by social threat is an integral part of social life and is related to self-esteem and in extreme forms, to poor mental health (e.g., social phobia). Our findings suggest that AVP is a key component in the circuit that interlaces stress and social threat and findings offer inroads to our understanding of individual differences in sociability and in stress response elicited in threatening social situations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience