'Ecstasy' as a social drug: MDMA preferentially affects responses to emotional stimuli with social content

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Aug;9(8):1076-81. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu035. Epub 2014 Mar 27.


3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, 'ecstasy') is used recreationally to improve mood and sociability, and has generated clinical interest as a possible adjunct to psychotherapy. One way that MDMA may produce positive 'prosocial' effects is by changing responses to emotional stimuli, especially stimuli with social content. Here, we examined for the first time how MDMA affects subjective responses to positive, negative and neutral emotional pictures with and without social content. We hypothesized that MDMA would dose-dependently increase reactivity to positive emotional stimuli and dampen reactivity to negative stimuli, and that these effects would be most pronounced for pictures with people in them. The data were obtained from two studies using similar designs with healthy occasional MDMA users (total N = 101). During each session, participants received MDMA (0, 0.75 and 1.5 mg/kg oral), and then rated their positive and negative responses to standardized positive, negative and neutral pictures with and without social content. MDMA increased positive ratings of positive social pictures, but reduced positive ratings of non-social positive pictures. We speculate this 'socially selective' effect contributes to the prosocial effects of MDMA by increasing the comparative value of social contact and closeness with others. This effect may also contribute to its attractiveness to recreational users.

Keywords: MDMA; ecstasy; emotion; social cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Male
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Behavior*
  • Visual Perception / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Hallucinogens
  • Illicit Drugs
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine