Tripping over the other: Could psychedelics increase empathy?

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There is increasing evidence that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is effective for a range of psychological conditions. There are likely numerous mechanisms of action that contribute to these clinical effects. One such mechanism of action might involve psychedelics increasing levels of empathic functioning. This paper synthesises research concerning the relationship between psychedelics and empathy, emphasising neuroscientific and clinical contexts. We conclude that neuropsychological and clinical evidence imply psychedelics could lead to increased empathic functioning. The effects of psychedelics on the 5-HT system, default mode network, neural connectivity and ego dissolution are implicated in these changes. Changes in empathic functioning also likely relate to increases in the personality trait of openness associated with psychedelic drug use, which is well documented. Increased empathic function likely has clinical implications, leading to increased social connectedness as well as prosocial attitudes and behaviours more broadly.

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Image: Alexander Hedström

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