The prosocial effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): Controlled studies in humans and laboratory animals

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Oct;57:433-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.08.016. Epub 2015 Sep 25.

Abstract

Users of ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; 'ecstasy') report prosocial effects such as sociability and empathy. Supporting these apparently unique social effects, data from controlled laboratory studies indicate that MDMA alters social feelings, information processing, and behavior in humans, and social behavior in rodents. Here, we review this growing body of evidence. In rodents, MDMA increases passive prosocial behavior (adjacent lying) and social reward while decreasing aggression, effects that may involve serotonin 1A receptor mediated oxytocin release interacting with vasopressin receptor 1A. In humans, MDMA increases plasma oxytocin and produces feelings of social affiliation. It decreases identification of negative facial expressions (cognitive empathy) and blunts responses to social rejection, while enhancing responses to others' positive emotions (emotional empathy) and increasing social approach. Thus, consistent with drug folklore, laboratory administration of MDMA robustly alters social processing in humans and increases social approach in humans and animals. Effects are consistent with increased sociability, with mixed evidence about enhanced empathy. These neurobiologically-complex prosocial effects likely motivate recreational ecstasy use.

Keywords: Ecstasy; Empathy; MDMA; Molly; Prosocial; Sociability; Social reward; Social threat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / pharmacology*
  • Social Behavior*

Substances

  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine