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Acute effects of MDMA on trust, cooperative behaviour and empathy: A double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment

Borissova, A; Ferguson, B; Wall, MB; Morgan, CJ; Carhart-Harris, RL; Bolstridge, M; Bloomfield, MA; ... Lawn, W; + view all (2020) Acute effects of MDMA on trust, cooperative behaviour and empathy: A double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment. Journal of Psychopharmacology 10.1177/0269881120926673. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is being actively researched as an adjunct to psychotherapy. It may be beneficial to trust, empathy and cooperative behaviour due to its acute prosocial effects. AIM: To test (a) the acute effects of MDMA on measures of empathy, trust and cooperative behaviour, and (b) subacute changes in mood three days after MDMA administration. METHODS: Twenty-five participants (n=7 female), participated in this double-blind, repeated-measures, placebo-controlled experiment. Participants attended two acute sessions, one week apart. Each acute session was followed by a subacute session three days later. Participants received placebo (100 mg ascorbic acid) during one acute session, and MDMA (100 mg MDMA-HCl) at the other, with order counterbalanced. Participants completed the following tasks assessing prosocial behaviour: a trust investment task, a trustworthy face rating task, an empathic stories task, a public project game, a dictator game and an ultimatum game. Participants reported subjective effects. Blood was taken pre-drug, 2 and 4 hours post-drug, and tested for plasma MDMA levels. RESULTS: MDMA acutely increased self-reported 'closeness to others' and 'euphoria' and increased plasma concentrations of MDMA. MDMA did not significantly change task-based empathy, trust or cooperative behaviour. Using Bayesian analyses, we found evidence that MDMA and placebo did not differ in their effects on empathy and cooperative behaviour. MDMA did not significantly change subacute mood and this was supported by our Bayesian analyses. CONCLUSION: Despite augmentation in plasma MDMA levels and subjective drug effects, we found no increase in prosocial behaviour in a laboratory setting.

Type: Article
Title: Acute effects of MDMA on trust, cooperative behaviour and empathy: A double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/0269881120926673
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881120926673
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: MDMA, cooperative behaviour, empathy, prosocial, trust
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10103600
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