MDMA Enhances Cooperation

Posted on December 5, 2018

A new study from King’s College London suggests that MDMA – found in ecstasy – may explain why users cooperate more after taking the drug. However, a caveat to this finding is that the enhanced cooperative effect only shows for people they have perceived as trustworthy and not to others deemed less trustworthy. This is the first study that closely examines the role of MDMA in affecting cooperation by the activity of brain regions associated with the processing of social information.

MDMA is more commonly used by recreational drug users and has been found to affect social and emotional behaviours through the release of certain neurotransmitters. However, little has been known about the role of how these neurotransmitters affect social behavior.

The present study recruited 20 healthy adult males who were assigned to one of two conditions – they were either given a typical recreational dose of MDMA or a placebo pill. All participants completed several tasks, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma task, while their brain activity was scanned in an MRI scanner. The Prisoner’s Dilemma task requires participants to choose whether to cooperate or compete with another player with the rules being that both players receive points for mutual cooperation, but if one of the players decide to compete instead, he/she receives all the points while the other players receives nothing, termed the ‘sucker effect’.

The present study found that participants in the MDMA condition were more cooperative than the placebo condition, but this effect only held when the other player behaved in a manner worth trusting and they did not cooperate more with untrustworthy players. MDMA did not affect participants’ perception of how trustworthy the other player was.

When previously trustworthy players betrayed the trust of the participants, it had the same damaging impact on trust for both MDMA and placebo groups. However, the MDMA condition saw a faster recovery of cooperative behavior, making them more willing to rebuild a relationship. The MRI scans showed that MDMA impacted social information processing, such as reasoning about the thoughts, beliefs and intentions of others, rather than acting on the decision-making process itself.

Since changes to social behavior is implicated in a host of psychiatric condition, the present study has significant clinical applications in terms of being able to pinpoint where abnormalities in brain activity could affect social behavior. In addition, MDMA is currently undergoing clinical trials in its use as a form of pharmacotherapy when used alongside psychotherapy and has been given Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA.

Category(s):Drug Addiction, Executive Functions

Source material from Medical Xpress