Sub-Acute Effects of Psilocybin on Empathy, Creative Thinking, and Subjective Well-Being

J Psychoactive Drugs. Apr-Jun 2019;51(2):123-134. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2019.1580804. Epub 2019 Feb 26.


Creative thinking and empathy are crucial for everyday interactions and subjective well-being. This is emphasized by studies showing a reduction in these skills in populations where social interaction and subjective well-being are significantly compromised (e.g., depression). Anecdotal reports and recent studies suggest that a single administration of psilocybin can enhance such processes and could therefore be a potential treatment. However, it has yet to be assessed whether effects outlast acute intoxication. The present study aimed to assess the sub-acute effects of psilocybin on creative thinking, empathy, and well-being. Participants attending a psilocybin retreat completed tests of creative (convergent and divergent) thinking and empathy, and the satisfaction with life scale on three occasions: before ingesting psilocybin (N = 55), the morning after (N = 50), and seven days after (N = 22). Results indicated that psilocybin enhanced divergent thinking and emotional empathy the morning after use. Enhancements in convergent thinking, valence-specific emotional empathy, and well-being persisted seven days after use. Sub-acute changes in empathy correlated with changes in well-being. The study demonstrates that a single administration of psilocybin in a social setting may be associated with sub-acute enhancement of creative thinking, empathy, and subjective well-being. Future research should test whether these effects contribute to the therapeutic effects in clinical populations.

Keywords: Convergent thinking; creativity; divergent thinking; empathy; life satisfaction; psilocybin.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Creativity*
  • Empathy / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / administration & dosage*
  • Hallucinogens / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Psilocybin / administration & dosage*
  • Psilocybin / pharmacology
  • Time Factors


  • Hallucinogens
  • Psilocybin