Prosocial effects of MDMA: A measure of generosity

This placebo-controlled within-subjects study (n=32) investigated the dose-dependent effects of MDMA (35-70mg/70kg) on generosity, as measured by their willingness to trade-off personal welfare in favor of the welfare of someone else. The higher dose of MDMA increased generosity in relation to a close friend but not a stranger, whereas the lower dose did not affect generosity toward the friend but slightly increased generosity toward a stranger. These results are in line with the prosocial effects of oxytocin, which promotes trust amongst members of a social ingroup but not the out-group.

Abstract

Background: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) produces “prosocial” effects that contribute to its recreational use. Few studies have examined the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms by which MDMA produces these effects. Here we examined the effect of MDMA on a specific prosocial effect, i.e. generosity, using a task in which participants make decisions about whether they or another person will receive money (Welfare Trade-Off Task; WTT).

Methods: The project included one study without drug administration and one with MDMA. In Study 1, we administered the WTT to healthy adults (N = 361) and examined their performance in relation to measures of personality and socioeconomic status. In Study 2, healthy volunteers with MDMA experience (N = 32) completed the WTT after MDMA administration (0, 0.5, or 1.0 mg/kg).

Results: As expected, in both studies participants were more generous with a close friend than an acquaintance or stranger. In Study 1, WTT generosity was related to household income and trait Agreeableness. In Study 2, MDMA (1.0 mg/kg) increased generosity toward a friend but not a stranger, whereas MDMA (0.5 mg/kg) slightly increased generosity toward a stranger, especially among female participants.

Conclusions: These data indicate that the WTT is a valuable, novel tool to assess a component of prosocial behavior, i.e. generosity to others. The findings support growing evidence that MDMA produces prosocial effects, but, as with oxytocin, these appear to depend on the social proximity of the relationships. The brain mechanisms underlying the construct of generosity, or the effects of MDMA on this measure, remain to be determined.”

Authors: Matthew Kirkpatrick, Andrew W. Delton, Theresa E. Robertson & Harriet de Wit

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