Single dose testosterone administration alleviates gaze avoidance in women with Social Anxiety Disorder

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 63, p.26-33 (2016)




Gaze avoidance is one of the most characteristic and persistent social features in people with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). It signals social submissiveness and hampers adequate social interactions. Patients with SAD typically show reduced testosterone levels, a hormone that facilitates socially dominant gaze behavior. Therefore we tested as a proof of principle whether single dose testosterone administration can reduce gaze avoidance in SAD. In a double-blind, within-subject design, 18 medication-free female participants with SAD and 19 female healthy control participants received a single dose of 0.5 mg testosterone and a matched placebo, at two separate days. On each day, their spontaneous gaze behavior was recorded using eye-tracking, while they looked at angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions. Testosterone enhanced the percentage of first fixations to the eye-region in participants with SAD compared to healthy controls. In addition, SAD patients' initial gaze avoidance in the placebo condition was associated with more severe social anxiety symptoms and this relation was no longer present after testosterone administration. These findings indicate that single dose testosterone administration can alleviate gaze avoidance in SAD. They support theories on the dominance enhancing effects of testosterone and extend those by showing that effects are particularly strong in individuals featured by socially submissive behavior. The finding that this core characteristic of SAD can be directly influenced by single dose testosterone administration calls for future inquiry into the clinical utility of testosterone in the treatment of SAD.