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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Nov;9(11):1645-52. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst161. Epub 2013 Oct 4.

MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior.

Author information

1
Psychopharmacology Research Group, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Biomedicine and Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital and University of Basel, 4031 Basel, Switzerland, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg, Germany, Department of Psychology, Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, CB21TN Cambridge, UK, Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, 1010 Vienna, Austria, and Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland.
2
Psychopharmacology Research Group, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Biomedicine and Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital and University of Basel, 4031 Basel, Switzerland, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg, Germany, Department of Psychology, Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, CB21TN Cambridge, UK, Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, 1010 Vienna, Austria, and Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland Psychopharmacology Research Group, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Biomedicine and Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital and University of Basel, 4031 Basel, Switzerland, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg, Germany, Department of Psychology, Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, CB21TN Cambridge, UK, Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, 1010 Vienna, Austria, and Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland.
3
Psychopharmacology Research Group, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Biomedicine and Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital and University of Basel, 4031 Basel, Switzerland, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg, Germany, Department of Psychology, Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, CB21TN Cambridge, UK, Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, 1010 Vienna, Austria, and Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland matthias.liechti@usb.ch.

Abstract

3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'ecstasy') releases serotonin and norepinephrine. MDMA is reported to produce empathogenic and prosocial feelings. It is unknown whether MDMA in fact alters empathic concern and prosocial behavior. We investigated the acute effects of MDMA using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET), dynamic Face Emotion Recognition Task (FERT) and Social Value Orientation (SVO) test. We also assessed effects of MDMA on plasma levels of hormones involved in social behavior using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, random-order, cross-over design in 32 healthy volunteers (16 women). MDMA enhanced explicit and implicit emotional empathy in the MET and increased prosocial behavior in the SVO test in men. MDMA did not alter cognitive empathy in the MET but impaired the identification of negative emotions, including fearful, angry and sad faces, in the FERT, particularly in women. MDMA increased plasma levels of cortisol and prolactin, which are markers of serotonergic and noradrenergic activity, and of oxytocin, which has been associated with prosocial behavior. In summary, MDMA sex-specifically altered the recognition of emotions, emotional empathy and prosociality. These effects likely enhance sociability when MDMA is used recreationally and may be useful when MDMA is administered in conjunction with psychotherapy in patients with social dysfunction or post-traumatic stress disorder.

KEYWORDS:

MDMA; ecstasy; emotion recognition; empathy; social behavior; social cognition

PMID:
24097374
PMCID:
PMC4221206
DOI:
10.1093/scan/nst161
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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