Examining stress and cognitive-affect processing in emotion disorders

About this project

Project description

The hormones-behaviour is critical to our understanding of stress and emotion disorders. Oxytocin (intranasal) lowers stress response and improves trust however, such findings warrant investigation across different populations (e.g., Asian & Australian). Further, females over-representation in emotion disorder, or sex-specific effects of oxytocin on stress physiology, and cognitive-affect processing remains unclear. Indo-Australian comparison of these effects provides insight in the universality of hormone-behaviour link in the context of cognitive affective processing in emotion disorder.

Aims: To test effects of oxytocin on stress, and reward-related decision making in trust and uncertainty in emotion disorder (depression & anxiety)

Study 1: Placebo-controlled double-blind study of intranasal oxytocin on stress (salivary cortisol), cognitive [trust game], uncertainty [gambling task] and affect response [IAPS valence] in anxiety/depression patients.

Study 2: Sex-differences in placebo-controlled double-blind study of intranasal oxytocin (see protocol, Heinrichs et al., 2003) on stress (salivary cortisol), cognitive [trust (two-person game), uncertainty (gambling task)] and affect response (IAPS valence) in normal healthy participants.

Methodology Sample: Power analysis suggested sample size of 176 for effect size of .50 at .05 level (Study 1: treatment group n = 88; Study 2: Males =88)

Material: Iowa Gambling Task, international affect database (IAPS), and Trust Game (Gneezy, 2005) Intranasal oxytocin/placebo spray: As per the protocol of Heinrichs et al. (2003).

Tests: Saliva sample for cortisol (stress), serotonin-dopamine balance, testosterone-estradiol balance using immunoassays.

Procedure: Participants provide informed consent, demographics, followed by salivary sample (T1), random assignment to treatment group (Nasal spray of oxytocin/placebo-saline), nasal spray protocol, Tasks (Order: IGT, IAPS, Trust Game), followed by salivary sample (T2).

Analysis: Between-group comparison of cortisol levels (ug/dl), net scores in uncertainty trials of IGT, and binary choices in Trust game: (a) treatment groups (b) healthy males and females.


  • Expected results: It is expected that effects of oxytocin in emotion disorder will help identify therapeutic usage of oxytocin, examine sex-specificity of these effects, and thereby improve our understanding of sex-specific vulnerability due to hormone-behavior link across two distinct sociocultural environments (i.e., India and Australia).
  • Grants targeted: Wellcome DBT India Alliance Journal papers: 2, impact factor > 2.
  • Clinical trial: CTRI for effect of intranasal oxytocin on emotion disorder patients.

Information for applicants

Essential capabilities

Neuropsychological assessment, Research Design, and Statistical Analysis (e.g., using SPSS).

Desireable capabilities

Programming skill (e.g., Python, Open sesame).

Expected qualifications (Course/Degrees etc.)

Masters Degree (MA/MSc, MPhil.) with relevant specialization (Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, Neuropsychology), Cognitive Science, Neuroscience.

Candidate Discipline

Clinical Psychology/Clinical Neuropsychology, Psychiatry/Rehabilitation (Focus: Neuropsychology), Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.

Project supervisors

Principal supervisors

UQ Supervisor

Associate professor Alan Pegna

School of Psychology
IITD Supervisor

Associate professor Varsha Singh

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
External Supervisor

Associate professor Rohit Verma

Dept. of Psychiatry, AIIMS, New Delhi