Oxytocin promotes social proximity and decreases vigilance in groups of African lions

Jessica C Burkhart, Saumya Gupta, Natalia Borrego, Sarah R. Heilbronner, Craig Packer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Oxytocin modulates mammalian social behavior; however, behavioral responses to intranasal oxytocin can vary across species and contexts. The complexity of social interactions increases with group dynamics, and the impacts of oxytocin on both within- and between-group contexts are unknown. We tested the effects of intranasal administration of oxytocin on social and non-social behaviors within in-group and out-group contexts in African lions. We hypothesized that, post intranasal oxytocin administration, lions would be in closer proximity with fellow group members, whereas out-group stimuli could either produce a heightened vigilance response or an attenuated one. Compared to control trials, post oxytocin administration, lions increased their time spent in close proximity (reducing their distance to the nearest neighbor) and decreased vigilance toward out-group intruders (reducing their vocalizations following a roar-playback). These results not only have important implications for understanding the evolution of social circuitry but may also have practical applications for conservation efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104049
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a UMN Academic Health Center Seed Grant, Research and Travel Awards from the UMN Dept of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, as well as the Evelyn Goyak Trust and the Rancho La Puerta Foundation . We thank the undergraduates who analyzed the behavioral data: Alexa Mathis, Ben Johnson, Morgan Zaic, Akira Callahan, Madison Alsbach, Sakshi Aul, Megan Wieczorek, Austin Werner, Sarah McLeod, Emily Winzenz, Avery Fessler, Allison Israel, Alex Gross, Anna Reard, Anna Clayton, Olivia Odegard, Mia Maun, David Nguyen, and Carrie Brevitz). We thank Kevin Richardson and staff at the Kevin Richardson Foundation for access and assistance with data collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s)


  • Endocrinology
  • Social interaction

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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