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Social Cognition and Interaction in Chronic Users of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy")


Wunderli, Michael D; Vonmoos, Matthias; Treichler, Lorena; Zeller, Carmen; Dziobek, Isabel; Kraemer, Thomas; Baumgartner, Markus R; Seifritz, Erich; Quednow, Boris B (2018). Social Cognition and Interaction in Chronic Users of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy"). International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 21(4):333-344.

Abstract

Background: The empathogen 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is the prototypical prosocial club drug inducing emotional openness to others. It has recently been shown that acutely applied 3,4-MDMA in fact enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior, while it simultaneously decreases cognitive empathy. However, the long-term effects of 3,4-MDMA use on socio-cognitive functions and social interactions have not been investigated yet. Therefore, we examined emotional and cognitive empathy, social decision-making, and oxytocin plasma levels in chronic 3,4-MDMA users.
Methods: We tested 38 regular but recently abstinent 3,4-MDMA users and 56 3,4-MDMA-naïve controls with the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition, the Multifaceted Empathy Test, and the Distribution Game and the Dictator Game. Drug use was objectively quantified by 6-month hair analyses. Furthermore, oxytocin plasma levels were determined in smaller subgroups (24 3,4-MDMA users, 9 controls).
Results: 3,4-MDMA users showed superior cognitive empathy compared with controls in the Multifaceted Empathy Test (Cohen's d=.39) and in the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (d=.50), but they did not differ from controls in emotional empathy. Moreover, 3,4-MDMA users acted less self-serving in the Distribution Game. However, within 3,4-MDMA users, multiple regression analyses showed that higher 3,4-MDMA concentrations in hair were associated with lower cognitive empathy (βMDMA=-.34, t=-2.12, P<.05). Oxytocin plasma concentrations did not significantly differ between both groups.
Conclusions: We conclude that people with high cognitive empathy abilities and pronounced social motivations might be more prone to 3,4-MDMA consumption. In contrast, long-term 3,4-MDMA use might nevertheless have a detrimental effect on cognitive empathy capacity.

Abstract

Background: The empathogen 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is the prototypical prosocial club drug inducing emotional openness to others. It has recently been shown that acutely applied 3,4-MDMA in fact enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior, while it simultaneously decreases cognitive empathy. However, the long-term effects of 3,4-MDMA use on socio-cognitive functions and social interactions have not been investigated yet. Therefore, we examined emotional and cognitive empathy, social decision-making, and oxytocin plasma levels in chronic 3,4-MDMA users.
Methods: We tested 38 regular but recently abstinent 3,4-MDMA users and 56 3,4-MDMA-naïve controls with the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition, the Multifaceted Empathy Test, and the Distribution Game and the Dictator Game. Drug use was objectively quantified by 6-month hair analyses. Furthermore, oxytocin plasma levels were determined in smaller subgroups (24 3,4-MDMA users, 9 controls).
Results: 3,4-MDMA users showed superior cognitive empathy compared with controls in the Multifaceted Empathy Test (Cohen's d=.39) and in the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (d=.50), but they did not differ from controls in emotional empathy. Moreover, 3,4-MDMA users acted less self-serving in the Distribution Game. However, within 3,4-MDMA users, multiple regression analyses showed that higher 3,4-MDMA concentrations in hair were associated with lower cognitive empathy (βMDMA=-.34, t=-2.12, P<.05). Oxytocin plasma concentrations did not significantly differ between both groups.
Conclusions: We conclude that people with high cognitive empathy abilities and pronounced social motivations might be more prone to 3,4-MDMA consumption. In contrast, long-term 3,4-MDMA use might nevertheless have a detrimental effect on cognitive empathy capacity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
04 Faculty of Medicine > Neuroscience Center Zurich
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Legal Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:DoktoratPsych Erstautor
Language:English
Date:1 April 2018
Deposited On:02 May 2018 09:17
Last Modified:02 Apr 2019 10:36
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:1461-1457
Additional Information:Copyright: Cambridge University Press
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyx098
PubMed ID:29087534
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant IDPP00P1_123516
  • : Project TitleNeurosocial consequences of cocaine use: a longitudinal investigation
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant IDPP00P1_146326
  • : Project TitleNeurosocial consequences of cocaine use: a longitudinal investigation

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