MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior

This placebo-controlled, double-blind study (n=32) investigated the acute effects of MDMA on empathogenic and prosocial feelings and found that MDMA sex-specifically altered the recognition of emotions, emotional empathy, and prosociality.


“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 behaviour. 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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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 behaviour. 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.”

Authors: Cédric M. Hysek, Yasmin Schmid, Linda D. Simmler, Gregor Domes, Markus Heinrichs, Christoph Eisenegger, Katrin H. Preller, Boris B. Quednow & Matthias E. Liechti

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MDMA enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior

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Published in
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
October 28, 2013
287 citations

Study details

Compounds studied

Topics studied

Study characteristics
Original Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Within-Subject

32 Humans


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Katrin Preller
Katrin Preller is one of the upcoming researchers, currently at the University of Zurich and Yale University, and is focused on the neurobiology and pharmacology of psychedelics.

Matthias Liechti
Matthias Emanuel Liechti is the research group leader at the Liechti Lab at the University of Basel.

Yasmin Schmid
Yasmin Schmid is a physician who previously worked at the University of Basil Liechti Lab.


Institutes associated with this publication

University of Basel
The University of Basel Department of Biomedicine hosts the Liechti Lab research group, headed by Matthias Liechti.

Compound Details

The psychedelics given at which dose and how many times

MDMA 125 mg | 1x

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