Anabolic androgenic steroid dependence is associated with impaired emotion recognition

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 Sep;236(9):2667-2676. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-05239-7. Epub 2019 Apr 2.


Rationale: Illicit use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) has grown into a serious public health concern throughout the Western World. AAS use is associated with adverse medical, psychological, and social consequences. Around 30% of AAS users develop a dependence syndrome with sustained use despite adverse side effects. AAS dependence is associated with a high frequency of intra- and interpersonal problems, and it is central to identify factors related to the development and maintenance of dependence.

Methods: The present study investigated the ability to recognize emotion from biological motion. The emotional biological motion task was administered to male AAS dependent users (AAS dependents; n = 45), AAS non-dependent users (AAS non-dependents; n = 38) and a comparison-group of non-using weightlifters (non-users; n = 69).

Results: Multivariate analysis of variance showed a general impairment in emotion recognition in AAS dependents, compared to the non-using weightlifters, whereas no significant impairment was observed in AAS non-dependents. Furthermore, AAS dependents showed impaired recognition of fearful stimuli compared to both AAS non-dependents and non-using weightlifters. The between-group effect remained significant after controlling for Intelligence Quotient (IQ), past 6 months of non-AAS drug use, antisocial personality problems, anxiety, and depression.

Conclusion: AAS dependents show impaired emotion recognition from body movement, fear in particular, which could potentially contribute to higher frequency of interpersonal problems and antisocial behaviors in this population.

Keywords: Anabolic androgenic steroids; Body language; Dependence; Emotion processing; Emotion recognition; Social cognition; Testosterone.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anabolic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Androgens / administration & dosage
  • Androgens / adverse effects*
  • Anxiety Disorders / chemically induced
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / chemically induced
  • Depression / psychology
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / drug effects*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Resistance Training / methods
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Testosterone Congeners / administration & dosage
  • Testosterone Congeners / adverse effects
  • Young Adult


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Testosterone Congeners