IV Oxytocin causes Pro-social Behaviours in Seals, 2017

Positive social behaviours are induced and retained after oxytocin manipulations mimicking endogenous concentrations in a wild mammal

Kelly J. Robinson, Sean D. Twiss, Neil Hazon, Simon Moss & Patrick P. Pomeroy

Proceedings of the Royal Society B 2017,


Keywords: oxytocin; manipulation; social behaviour; proximity-seeking behaviour; seal; intravenous


The neuropeptide hormone oxytocin modulates numerous social and parental behaviours across a wide range of species, including humans. We conducted manipulation experiments on wild grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) to determine whether oxytocin increases proximity-seeking behaviour, which has previously been correlated with endogenous oxytocin concentrations in wild seal populations. Pairs of seals that had never met previously were given intravenous injections of 0.41 µg kg−1 oxytocin or saline and were observed for 1 h post-manipulation. The dose was designed to mimic endogenous oxytocin concentrations during the observation period, and is one of the lowest doses used to manipulate behaviour to date. Seals given oxytocin spent significantly more time in close proximity to each other, confirming that oxytocin causes conspecifics to seek others out and remain close to one another. Aggressive and investigative behaviours also significantly fell after oxytocin manipulations. Despite using a minimal oxytocin dose, pro-social behavioural changes unexpectedly persisted for 2 days despite rapid dose clearance from circulation post-injection. This study verifies that oxytocin promotes individuals staying together, demonstrating how the hormone can form positive feedback loops of oxytocin release following conspecific stimuli, increased motivation to remain in close proximity and additional oxytocin release from stimuli received while in close proximity.