Intranasal Oxytocin Administration Reduces Bystanders’ Acceptance of Online Celebrity Bashing

Konrad Rudnicki, Gaelle Ouvrein, Charlotte De Backer, Vandebosch Heidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Online celebrity bashing refers to a specific subform of online aggression in which celebrities are the targets of derogatory messages. Recent research focusing on the underlying explanations of why some bystanders turn into perpetrators of celebrity bashing suggests that human capacity for empathy may regulate the involvement in this practice. Bystanders with higher empathy are thought to show more disapproval towards online celebrity bashing, which makes them less likely to join in this practice. However, little is known about the processes of how empathy steers bystanders’ bashing attitudes and behavior. In this study, we examine whether the oxytocinergic system, which forms the neurophysiological foundation of empathy, influences the bystanders’ acceptance of online celebrity bashing. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment, we tested the effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on acceptance of celebrity bashing in men. Sixty participants rated neutral or derogatory comments presented as “tweets.” Electrodermal activity and electrocardiogram of the participants were recorded to control for the stress levels. The results showed that oxytocin administration reduced the acceptance of celebrity bashing. Celebrity bashing was unrelated to stress levels. In natural circumstances oxytocin levels are dependent on the presence and quality of one’s social relationships. As a result, we discuss the importance of facilitating a network of social support in programs addressing the problem of online aggression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Bullying Prevention
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

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© 2019, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


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