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J Psychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;28(11):1001-8. doi: 10.1177/0269881114544775. Epub 2014 Aug 13.

Effects of ecstasy on cooperative behaviour and perception of trustworthiness: a naturalistic study.

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Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, University College London, London, UK.
Imanova Centre for Imaging Sciences, London, UK Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, London, UK.
Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, University College London, London, UK



Acute recreational use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; 'ecstasy') can promote pro-social effects which may alter interpersonal perceptions.


To explore such effects, this study investigated whether acute recreational use of ecstasy was associated with changes in individual perception of trustworthiness of people's faces and co-operative behaviours.


An independent group, repeated measures design was used in which 17 ecstasy users were tested on the night of drug use (day 0) and again three days later (day 3); 22 controls were tested on parallel days. On each day, participants rated the trustworthiness of 66 faces, carried out three co-operative behaviour tasks (public good; dictator; ultimatum game) and completed mood self-ratings.


Acute ecstasy use was associated with increased face trustworthiness ratings and increased cooperative behaviour on the dictator and ultimatum games; on day 3 there were no group differences on any task. Self-ratings showed the standard acute ecstasy effects (euphoria, energy, jaw clenching) with negative effects (less empathy, compassion, more distrust, hostility) emerging on day 3.


Our findings of increased perceived trustworthiness and co-operative behaviours following use of ecstasy suggest that a single dose of the drug enhances aspects of empathy. This may in turn contribute to its popularity as a recreational drug and potentially to its enhancement of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy.


3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine; Co-operation; acute; ecstasy; pro-social; psychological therapy; sub-acute; trust

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