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Promoting social behavior with oxytocin in high functioning autism spectrum disorders

The article "Promoting social behavior with oxytocin in high-functioning autism spectrum disorders" emphasizes that individuals with autism spectrum disorder are known to have preserved intellectual abilities despite having struggles engaging in social situations and explores hormonal underpinnings of the social learning disability. The hormone, oxytocin known to promote mother-infant bonds, may be the underlying cause of social deficits in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. In an experiment conducted with 13 subjects with autism, the behavioral effects before and after oxytocin inhalation were measured. 

The purpose of this article was to understand the role of oxytocin in regards to behavioral and social developments of individuals diagnosed with autism. The beginning of the journal article starts with a brief introduction explaining the synthesis and role of oxytocin in various brain regions. It further describes how oxytocin production relates to regulating emotions, mother-infant attachment, stress, sexual activity, and approach behavior. Moreover, the article claims that oxytocin anomalies have been reported in children with autism. They have significantly lower plasma oxytocin levels and fail to show a standard developmental increase of oxytocin in their blood levels. The journal article also claims that the decrease in oxytocin blood levels in individuals with autism may be due to how the hormone is synthesized. To better understand what causes the disrupted hormone synthesize, the article should have spent more time analyzing what processes could have led to oxytocin's deficiency instead of focusing on oxytocin's role in regulating behavior. The article describes behaviors regulated by oxytocin in full detail, explaining how it strengthens the encoding of social stimuli; however, it fails to back up the claim "disruption in hormone synthesis leads to decreased oxytocin blood levels" with evidence. It also fails to answer what disrupts the normal synthesis of oxytocin in blood levels and leaves the audience wondering what underdevelopment of the brain could have led to this finding. 

The experiment carried out in this article comes from the results of a "social ball-tossing game," where there were two experimental groups and one control group. The two experimental groups consisted of individuals with autism being supplemented with oxytocin nasal spray and individuals with autism spectrum disorder being supplemented with a placebo. The control group was subjects faced with no oxytocin deficiency. Two different behaviors were measures: decision making during the game and eye movement when faced with a task. Plasma oxytocin levels were also measured in patients before and after nasal spray. The results depicted that individuals after the oxytocin nasal spray had better cooperation and engagement during the game as they threw significantly more balls than the individuals faced with the placebo. The individuals in the  nasal spray condition also had a more comprehensive range of emotional responses than the placebo group; patients in the oxytocin group displayed greater trust and a stronger preference for certain players while individuals under the placebo did not. The last test exploring facial expression was conducted as individuals reported the gender (male/female) of each player and the depicted face's gaze direction. In summary, patients under oxytocin had enhanced patients' visual scanning of faces than individuals under the placebo effect.

Overall, the article did have many weak points, including failing to state how individuals would lack oxytocin in blood levels or what would lead to this abnormality. Moreoverm undefining the age range of the sample or the time duration of the game, and failing to include graphs over time to indicate changes during the length of the game. The article focuses much on  oxytocin's role in the body and explaining the experiment results than describing the causes of the lack of hormone synthesis. The report also fails to mention important information such as the age group of the sample and the duration of the game. Knowing the sample's age group is essential for replicating the experiment and for a better understanding of the results. Older individuals tend to showcase different social behaviors during games than children; older individuals may feel more indifferent than children who might depict more enthusiasm or joy for the game. The duration of the game should also be known to understand how long the effects of the oxytocin nasal spray lasted in individuals. Furthermore,the experiment fails to depict a graph over time that depicts the results of the oxytocin nasal spray on behavior throughout the game length to show significant signs of increase or decrease in behavior. The experiment illustrates generalized graphs that showcase  patients with oxytocin showed more significant behavior differences than individuals with the placebo. For example, instead of measuring emotions throughout the game length, the article made a general statement claiming that individuals with oxytocin had greater trust and stronger preferences. 

The journal article managed to test social interaction levels successfully to answer whether oxytocin production affects behaviors. Overall, the experimental process of analyzing oxytocin's role in behavioral cues with individuals with autism showed a positive relationship. As individuals  with autism had an increase in oxytocin blood levels, they also increased observed social interactions, emotional responses, and facial/eye movement. Through the analysis of a variety of dependent variables, the journal article managed to come to a definite conclusion that the lack of oxytocin in individuals with autism does affect their social behavior. Moreover, the report does an excellent job using the data results to answer the investigated question and open doors for further experiments. Future experiments could analyze the effects of oxytocin levels in individuals faced with autism by replicating the investigation in a different social situation. These different situations may include group discussions, classroom settings, or other engaging games such as tennis or soccer. Investigations should also discuss what factors in individuals faced with autism lead to the reduction of oxytocin production and focus less on explaining oxytocin's role.

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