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MDMA enhances early visual processing for salient socio-emotional stimuli.
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  • Connor Haggarty,
  • Anya Bershad,
  • Mahesh Kumar,
  • Royce Lee,
  • Harriet de Wit
Connor Haggarty
Wayne State University
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Anya Bershad
UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
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Mahesh Kumar
University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division
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Royce Lee
University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division
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Harriet de Wit
University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has long been used non-medically, and it is currently under investigation for its potential therapeutic benefits. Both uses may be related to its ability to enhance empathy, sociability, emotional processing and its anxiolytic effects. However, the neural mechanisms underlying these effects, and their specificity to MDMA compared to other stimulants, are not yet fully understood. Here, using electroencephalography (EEG), we investigated the effects of MDMA and a prototypic stimulant, methamphetamine (MA), on early visual processing of socio-emotional stimuli in an oddball emotional faces paradigm. Specifically, we examined whether MDMA or MA enhance the processing of facial expressions, compared to placebo, during the early stages of visual perception. MDMA enhanced an event-related component that is sensitive to detecting faces (N170), specifically for happy and angry expressions compared to neutral faces. MA did not affect this measure, and neither drug altered other components of the response to emotional faces. These findings provide novel insights into the neural mechanisms underlying the effects of MDMA on socio-emotional processing and may have implications for the therapeutic use of MDMA in the treatment of social anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
06 Feb 2024Submitted to European Journal of Neuroscience
07 Feb 2024Assigned to Editor
07 Feb 2024Submission Checks Completed
15 Feb 2024Reviewer(s) Assigned