Toward a New Science of Psychedelic Social Psychology: The Effects of MDMA (Ecstasy) on Social Connection

Psychedelic science has generated hundreds of compelling published studies yet with relatively little impact on mainstream psychology. I propose that social psychologists have much to gain by incorporating psychoactive substances into their research programs. Here I use (±)-3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as an example because of its documented ability in experiments and clinical trials to promote bonding, love, and warmth. Social connection is a fundamental human need, yet researchers still possess few tools to effectively and durably boost it. MDMA allows investigators to isolate the psychological mechanisms—as well as brain pathways—underlying felt social connection and thus reveal what should be targeted in future (nondrug) studies. Accordingly, I introduce a conceptual model that presents the proximal psychological mechanisms stimulated by MDMA (lowered fear, increased sociability, more chemistry), as well as its potential long-term impacts (improved relationships, reduced loneliness, stronger therapeutic alliances). Finally, I discuss further questions (e.g., whether using MDMA for enhancing connection can backfire) and promising research areas for building a new science of psychedelic social psychology. In sum, psychopharmacological methods can be a useful approach to illuminate commonly studied social-psychological processes, such as connectedness, prejudice, or self, as well as inform interventions to directly improve people’s lives.


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