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

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Abstract

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

Aims: 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.

Method: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Stewart, L. H., Ferguson, B., Morgan, C. J. A., Swaboda, N., Jones, L., Fenton, R., … & Curran, H. V. (2014). Effects of ecstasy on cooperative behaviour and perception of trustworthiness: A naturalistic study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(11), 1001-1008. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269881114544775

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