This survey study (n=148) assessed changes in participants personality traits following a psychedelic experience. It was found that the use of psychedelics was associated with increases in agreeableness and substantive decreases in neuroticism, traits that are related to social functioning. These findings suggest that psychedelics may be used to treat interpersonal elements of personality pathology as well as loneliness.
“The present study examines prospective changes in personality traits relevant to social functioning as well as perceived social connectedness in relation to the naturalistic use of psychedelic compounds in an online volunteer sample. The study also examined the degree to which demographic characteristics, social setting, baseline personality, and acute subjective factors (e.g., emotional breakthrough experiences) influenced trajectories of personality and perceived social connectedness. Participants recruited online completed self-report measures of personality and social connectedness at three timepoints (baseline, 2weeks post-experience, 4weeks post-experience). Linear mixed models were used to examine changes in outcomes and the moderation of these outcomes by covariates. The most substantive changes were reductions in the personality domains Neuroticism, and increases in Agreeableness and social connectedness. Notably, reductions in Neuroticism and increases in Agreeableness covaried over time, which may be suggestive of common processes involving emotion regulation. Preliminary evidence was found for a specific effect on a component of Agreeableness involving a critical and quarrelsome interpersonal style. Although moderation by demographic characteristics, social setting, baseline personality, and acute factors generally found limited support, baseline standing on Neuroticism, perspective taking, and social connectedness showed tentative signs of amplifying adaptive effects on each trait, respectively. Our findings hold implications for the potential use of psychedelics for treating interpersonal elements of personality pathology as well as loneliness.”
Research on serotonergic psychedelics has accelerated in the last decade due to promising demonstrations of psychotherapeutic effects, and relaxed legal restriction on scientific investigation.
The present study examines the link between naturalistic use of psychedelic compounds and enhanced social functioning at the individual level. Improved social functioning is assumed to promote positive individual and collective outcomes through augmenting interpersonal trust, social connectedness, relationship longevity, and emotional fulfillment in social interaction.
A useful framework for our examination lies in the Five-Factor Model of personality, which includes three personality domains that possess empirical support for subserving social functioning. Low levels of Extraversion and low levels of Agreeableness are associated with peer rejection, and higher levels with relationship satisfaction.
Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism may be particularly relevant targets of inquiry when examining the effects of psychedelic compounds on social functioning. Agreeableness is associated with higher functioning in empathy, a disposition toward prosociality, and relationship stability.
There is evidence that psychedelic use can affect personality, social cognition, social connectedness, and moral behavior. Five studies have shown evidence of adaptive change in Neuroticism, two studies have shown evidence of self-reported change in Extraversion, and three studies have shown qualified evidence of increased Agreeableness.
Although there is some evidence of long-term psychedelic-induced change in personality domains relevant to social functioning, findings remain somewhat inconsistent. This may be due to multiple factors including study variability in sample size, sample type, length of follow-up, conditions of administration, and inner experiences during the acute effects of the compounds.
Research suggests that psychedelic compounds alter social cognition-related neural functioning sub- and post-acutely, including decreased amygdala blood oxygen-level dependent response to emotional face stimuli, greater levels of social approach, and lower avoidance.
A third source of evidence suggests that psychedelic experience may be linked to changes in social cognition. This sense of connectedness may be expressed in qualitative reports of mystical-type experience and increased perceptions of social connectedness with other human beings.
A small body of literature suggests that psychedelic compounds may promote moral reasoning and prosocial behavior. However, other explanations may be at play, most notably that participants inclined to use psychedelic compounds already differed from other participants on traits associated with these outcomes before using.
Although the 5-HT receptor system shows evidence of an involvement in harm aversion and deontological (versus utilitarian) moral reasoning, psychedelic users were not associated with greater aversion to harm others or greater prosocial behavior in the only existing examination containing a social moral dilemma task.
The present study examines how psychedelic experiences unfold outside of a controlled laboratory or shamanic setting, and provides insight into the effects of psychedelic use in the general population. A web-based survey was used to measure outcomes and relevant moderators across five timepoints, including 1 week before, 2 weeks after, and 4 weeks after a psychedelic experience. FFM Neuroticism was hypothesized to decrease, and FFM Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and perceived social connectedness were hypothesized to increase.
We examined factors that may potentiate or suppress personality change in relation to psychedelic experience. Mystical-type experience was hypothesized to contribute to a larger difference in FFM Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness following 2 weeks and 4 weeks post-experience.
This study used opportunity sampling and web-based data collection to collect data from people who planned to take a classic psychedelic drug in the near future.
We collected data from 148 volunteer participants who reported on their psychedelic experiences at all three timepoints (1 week before experience, 2 weeks post experience, 4 weeks post experience). We also collected data from 249 participants who reported on their experience at two weeks post experience.
A total of 741 participants responded to any timepoint of the study, but 576 (78%) dropped out or did not complete the first, fourth, or fifth survey. Participants who completed the first, fourth, or fifth survey exhibited lower TIPI Disorganized (i.e., higher Conscientiousness).
Participant Recruitment and Dissemination of the Study
A website called psychedelicsurvey.com was created in collaboration with a team of web designers, and a specific domain was created for this specific study. Individuals were able to sign up on the website by providing their name, email address and the date on which they expected to have their experience.
The present study used Survey Gizmo to sample variables associated with psychedelic drug use, without manipulating or promoting such use. The study was approved by Imperial College Research Ethics Committee and the Joint Research Compliance Office at Imperial College London.
Personality Outcomes Ten-Item Personality Inventory
The TIPI consists of 10 items, with two items for each FFM domain. Unfortunately, the internal consistency for three of five TIPI domains was low, which limited the interpretation of longitudinal changes in these constructs.
Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking
Two subscales from the Interpersonal Reactivity Index were used to measure empathy and enrich measurement of FFM Agreeableness. IRI Empathic Concern and IRI Perspective Taking were considered to be reflective of Agreeableness, and IRI EC and IRI PT had high internal consistency across timepoints.
The Santa Clara Brief Compassion Scale is a 5-item scale used to measure compassion. It has high empirical overlap with the IRI Empathic Concern Scale and is treated as an index of the component of FFM Agreeableness involving Compassion.
The Tellegen Absorption Scale (MODTAS) is used to measure trait absorption. It has high theoretical and empirical overlap with FFM Openness and measures aesthetic appreciation, fantasy, unusual associations, unconventional worldviews, and awareness of inner feelings.
Social Connectedness Outcomes Social Connectedness
The Social Connectedness Scale measures one’s perceived sense of belongingness in relation to others and society. Higher scores indicate greater social connectedness.
A modified version of the inclusion of others in the self scale was used to assess participants’ perceived sense of relationship with other human beings.
The Multidisciplinary Iowa Suggestibility Scale-Short (MISS) was used to measure participants’ susceptibility to internalize external influences.
Set and Setting
A 12-item measure was constructed to assess participants’ cognitive and emotional relationship to their psychedelic experience to come. Data were collected in the second survey.
A 10-item measure was constructed to assess the types of experiences participants sought to consciously create. Three factors were derived: spiritual connection, recreational experience, and emotional experience.
The Spielberger State – Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-SF) was used to measure trait anxiety.
The QIDS is a 16-item scale that measures severity of depressive symptoms within the preceding 7 days. It consists of 9 subscales, and the total score represents the mean of the 9 subscales.
The Challenging Experience Questionnaire is a 26-item scale that measures unpleasant affective, cognitive, and somatic reactions to psychedelic compounds. It is derived from “challenging” items from other psychedelic questionnaires.
The Emotional Breakthrough Inventory is a 6-item scale that measures productive engagement with emotional problems.
The Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) is a 30-item scale that measures mystical aspects of participants’ experiences. It has four subscales: Mystical (15-item), Positive mood (6-item), Transcendence of time and space (6-item), and Ineffability (3-item).
Analytic Plan Analyses
Four sets of analyses were planned to determine the degree to which personality and perceived social connectedness outcomes changed in relation to psychedelic experience. The full N = 148 dataset was used to examine change in outcome scores between baseline and all timepoints. Additional models were conducted in larger datasets to maximize sample size and power, and Cohen’s ds were used to calculate effect size.
We used linear mixed models to examine moderating effects on time, including validity variables, predisposing factors, and acute factors. Marginal R2 values were used to indicate the degree to which fixed effect variables accounted for variance in outcomes.
We used regression to examine covariation between personality and perceived social connectedness outcomes over time.
Post hoc power analyses indicated that the self-report sample was powered to accurately detect true differences between timepoints exceeding 0.10/0.12 (Tellegen Absorption), 0.12/0.14 (IRI Perspective Taking), 0.12/0.16 (IRI Empathic Concern), 0.13/0.15 (SCBCS Compassion), 0.15/0.19 (TIPI Reserved), 0.17/0.19 (TIPI Extraverted, TIPI An
Examining Change in Personality and Social Connectedness
Results showed that 2 weeks following psychedelic experience, TIPI Anxious and TIPI Critical were significantly lower, and TIPI Calm, TIPI Extraverted, Social Connectedness, and Relatedness were significantly higher. Four weeks following psychedelic experience, TIPI Anxious and TIPI Critical remained significantly lower.
Examining Moderation of Change
To examine the degree to which change between timepoints depended on predisposing and acute factors, three sets of variables were examined: validity variables, predisposing factors, and acute factors.
The study found that participants with favorable attitudes toward psychedelic use and high experience with psychedelic use had higher baseline TIPI Calm and showed no change at 2 weeks or 4 weeks, whereas participants with negative attitudes and low experience showed a greater increase in TIPI Calm.
Lifetime psychedelic uses and baseline traits emerged as significant moderators of IRI Perspective Taking. Participants with low previous psychedelic uses exhibited significant increases in IRI Perspective Taking two and four weeks following psychedelic experience.
Moderation by baseline traits was found in 14 of 16 outcomes, but regression to the mean was likely responsible for many of these trends in adaptive directions. Therefore, further tests were conducted to examine adaptive moderation.
Participants with high baseline anxiety showed significant decreases in anxiety following 4 weeks. Similarly, participants with low baseline anxiety showed significant increases in calm, perspective taking, and relatedness following 2 and 4 weeks.
Challenging Experience, Emotional Breakthrough experience, and mystical-type experience were examined as moderators of temporal change in outcomes following psychedelic experience. Only Emotional Breakthrough experience emerged as a significant moderator, and only participants who exhibited a one-standard-deviation increase in Emotional Breakthrough showed a meaningful change.
We computed change scores between baseline and 4 weeks following psychedelic experience, and calculated the correlations between these change scores. Results indicated that Social Connectedness showed significant covariation over time with TIPI Anxious, TIPI Extraverted, TIPI Critical, and TIPI Disorganized.
Participants reported increases in perceived social connectedness, decreased critical and quarrelsome demeanor, and anxiety and mood lability, and preliminary evidence for increases in cognitive empathy. These changes were amplified among participants starting with less adaptive initial levels of these traits.
Is Psychedelic Use Related to Changes in Personality Traits Relevant to Social Functioning?
Two personality domains, neuroticism and agreeableness, displayed substantive, small-sized, changes in the direction of enhanced social functioning. TIPI Critical Quarrelsome, the only outcome measuring the Politeness aspect of agreeableness, was the only outcome to decline substantively between baseline measurement and 2 weeks following psychedelic experience.
Our results suggest that psychedelic experience decreases criticism and quarrelsomeness. This finding may have clinical and forensic implications, as Politeness bears strongest relations to pathological personality traits most relevant to antagonistic personality disorders.
No meaningful change was observed in other agreeableness outcomes compared to TIPI Critical Quarrelsome, possibly because participants had already high scores on TIPI Sympathetic Warm, compassion, and empathic concern. Power analyses suggest that we were adequately powered to detect an interaction effect of small size for compassion and empathic concern if one was present. Furthermore, our null results with respect to adaptive change in affective empathy are convergent with previous evidence that explicit emotional empathy does not remain enhanced for longer than 1 week.
In a subset of participants, perspective taking increased in relation to psychedelic use, although a main effect change in this trait was not observed. This provides preliminary evidence that psychedelic use may enhance cognitive empathy among individuals with low initial capacity.
Psychedelic experience may drive adaptive changes in Politeness versus Compassion in the general population. However, mixed findings within the literature may owe in part to imprecise measurement of agreeableness.
There was support for adaptive change in neuroticism, with small-sized, but substantive decreases in anxiety and mood lability that remained significantly above baseline scores 4 weeks following psychedelic use. There was also support for a psychedelic-induced antidepressant effect, although the size of the observed effects were smaller than medium-sized effects.
Psychedelic use may promote personality traits of high relevance to social functioning, including decreased neuroticism, decreased negative affect, and increased positive affect.
We additionally compared observed effect size changes in TIPI Anxious and TIPI Critical to meta-analyzed effects of psycho- and pharmacotherapeutic intervention, and found that TIPI Anxious exhibited a lower effect size change, whereas TIPI Critical exhibited a larger effect size change.
Although speculative, the correlations between change scores in personality traits found in this study may be diagnostic of common psychedelic-induced processes that underlie multiple traits. For example, reduced neuroticism via enhanced emotion regulation ability may accompanies lower stress reactivity and interpersonal aggression.
Is Psychedelic Use Related to Change in Perceptions of Social Connectedness?
We focused on connectedness to other human beings because previous research has shown that psychedelic use can engender enhanced connectedness to self, nature, and other human beings. Our results demonstrated that the effect of enhanced connectedness with other human beings persisted for up to 2 weeks.
Our findings may hold important clinical implications, as social disconnectedness is a common feature of internalizing and stress disorders, and connectedness is considered a core component of psychological well-being.
Is Change in Personality Connected to Change in Perceived Social Connectedness?
Perceived social connectedness significantly correlated over time with a number of personality outcomes including neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The present approach was not able to evaluate the causal directionality of these relations.
Perceived social connectedness emerged in previous work, and interindividual overlap between constructs may be suggestive of intraindividual covariation over time. However, perceived relatedness to other human beings (Relatedness) did not exhibit covarying relations with personality.
Are There Factors That Predispose or Potentiate Change in Social Functioning-Related Traits and Perceived Social Connectedness?
Eight significant results emerged from 400 analyses of data on psychedelic use, suggesting that predisposing and acute factors did not moderate psychedelic-induced personality change. However, the lack of significant results may be due to the small sample size and lack of control over other factors.
There are a number of limitations to this study, including possible differential drop out by participants who did not experience a positive effect of psychedelics, differences in conscientiousness between complete and incomplete respondents, and the absence of informant-data to corroborate results from self-report data. Our sample was comprised of volunteers, which introduces sample bias, and our use of TIPI items accompanies low inter-item reliability of personality outcomes. We were also not able to precisely measure the type and dosage of the substances participants took.
Psychedelic use was associated with decreases in neuroticism and increases in agreeableness, which are relevant to social functioning via links to relationship satisfaction and prosociality. Psychedelic use was also associated with increases in feelings of belonging to one’s social environment.
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Authors associated with this publication with profiles on BlossomRobin Carhart-Harris
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is the Founding Director of the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division at UCSF. Previously he led the Psychedelic group at Imperial College London.
David Erritzoe is the clinical director of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. His work focuses on brain imaging (PET/(f)MRI).
Institutes associated with this publicationImperial College London
The Centre for Psychedelic Research studies the action (in the brain) and clinical use of psychedelics, with a focus on depression.