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Researchers Find That Even Low Doses of MDMA Enhance Emotional Empathy

The effects of MDMA are correlated with “increased prosocial behavior, social closeness, and well-being.”

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A new study published this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology reports that even small doses of MDMA can enhance emotional empathy towards others. Researchers in the Netherlands and Switzerland conducted six double-blind studies on a total of 118 participants. Each individual ingested a 75mg MDMA pill, a 125mg MDMA pill, or a placebo pill, and then completed an empathy test.

The researchers found that the drug enhanced emotional empathy, meaning a person's affective response to another person's emotional state. The researchers looked at other moderating factors, like the sex of the participant and their lifetime MDMA use, and found that they had little to no effect on the enhanced empathic response. However, the study also found that MDMA did not increase cognitive empathy, the ability to correctly identify the emotions of another person, whatsoever.

Lead author Kim PC Kuypers of Maastricht University explained that “in 2008, after having focused on the negative effects of MDMA we shifted focus and got a grant to investigate the positive effects of MDMA. We know from anecdotal reports that MDMA has positive effects. We wanted to objectify those by means of laboratory tasks.”

The researchers suggest that the effects of MDMA “could be explained as an increase in ‘positive empathy’, that is, the ability to share, celebrate, and enjoy others’ positive emotions; a state which correlates with increased prosocial behavior, social closeness, and well-being.”

The study does have its limitations, but researchers are hopeful that this study will inspire further research on the topic. “We are still not sure about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this,” Kuypers said. “This should be addressed.”

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