MDMA decreases the effects of simulated social rejection

3-4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) increases self-reported positive social feelings and decreases the ability to detect social threat in faces, but its effects on experiences of social acceptance and rejection have not been determined. We examined how an acute dose of MDMA affects subjective and autonomic responses to simulated social acceptance and rejection. We predicted that MDMA would decrease subjective responses to rejection. On an exploratory basis, we also examined the effect of MDMA on respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a measure of parasympathetic cardiac control often thought to index social engagement and emotional regulation. Over three sessions, healthy adult volunteers with previous MDMA experience (N=36) received capsules containing placebo, 0.75 or 1.5 mg/kg of MDMA under counter-balanced double-blind conditions. During expected peak drug effect, participants played two rounds of a virtual social simulation task called “Cyberball” during which they experienced acceptance in one round and rejection in the other. During the task we also obtained electrocardiograms (ECGs), from which we calculated RSA. After each round, participants answered questionnaires about their mood and self-esteem. As predicted, MDMA decreased the effect of simulated social rejection on self-reported mood and self-esteem and decreased perceived intensity of rejection, measured as the percent of ball tosses participants reported receiving. Consistent with its sympathomimetic properties, MDMA decreased RSA as compared to placebo. Our finding that MDMA decreases perceptions of rejection in simulated social situations extends previous results indicating that MDMA reduces perception of social threat in faces. Together these findings suggest a cognitive mechanism by which MDMA might produce pro-social behavior and feelings and how the drug might function as an adjunct to psychotherapy. These phenomena merit further study in non-simulated social environments.


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