Selective impairment of sadness and disgust recognition in abstinent ecstasy users

Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(6):959-65. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2005.10.001. Epub 2005 Nov 15.


Previous data have suggested that ecstasy use may affect cognitive functions. The relationship between ecstasy use and emotion recognition remains largely unknown. This study reports the findings on the neuropsychological effects of ecstasy use on recognition of basic human emotions among 100 abstinent ecstasy users, along with 100 demographically matched nonusers. Recognition of both facial and prosodic emotions was studied. In addition, neuropsychological predictors of emotion recognition for abstinent ecstasy users were examined. The results showed that abstinent ecstasy users were impaired, relative to nonusers, on overall emotion recognition. In particular, recognition of sadness and disgust was significantly affected. The emotion-recognition deficits observed among the abstinent ecstasy users may reflect a complex derangement of monoamines and/or general degenerative change observed in the addicted populations. The length of time in months since ecstasy was last consumed, cumulative ecstasy dosage, and years of education negatively predicted various domains of emotion recognition. The observation that nonverbal and verbal fluency functions were significant predictors of emotion identification, as well as of recognition of sadness and disgust, suggests that the frontal executive system might be affected by ecstasy use.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology


  • Hallucinogens