Evidence that stimulants decrease empathy

  • Evidence that stimulants decrease empathy

    Posted by Matt Dorsey on October 16, 2022 at 11:43 pm

    Virtually all stimulants (with perhaps a tiny minority of exceptions) increase dopamine, and thus it would make sense if some of them–especially the more profoundly potent ones–were associated with reductions in empathy, given that dopamine tends to increase left hemisphere dominance.

    This is obvious to anyone who’s dealt with people who take these drugs, of course, but there’s also scientific evidence to back this up.

    Note that cocaine and methamphetamine are two of the strongest dopaminergic drugs in common use (methamphetamine being significantly more potent than cocaine, at least according to Dr. Andrew Huberman).

    Note also that amphetamine (AKA ‘Adderall’) only differs from methamphetamine by the addition of a simple methyl group, which primarily affects pharmacokinetics (absorption, distribution, and metabolism of the drug in the body), and thus differs in a more quantitative versus qualitative fashion.

    Phenomenologically, they’re probably extremely similar. I would guess that a large dose of amphetamine and a relatively small dose of methamphetamine might produce nearly identical states.

    Given that millions of adults and children take Adderall on a daily basis, one does have to wonder what we’re doing to our society in terms of pharmacological attenuation of empathy and right hemisphere functionality.


    Here are a couple quotes from the PsyPost article ‘Brain scan study uncovers why cocaine and methamphetamine may impair moral judgment’:

    Research has shown that stimulant users often find it difficult to identify other people’s emotions, particularly fear, and to show empathy. These aspects play an important role in moral decision making. Other studies have pointed to structural and functional abnormalities in especially the frontal regions of their brains among stimulant users. These areas are engaged when moral judgments have to be made.”

    “The research team acknowledges that people who are prone to regular stimulant use might already struggle with moral processing even before they begin to use drugs such as cocaine. The effects found related to use over time in the anterior cingulate cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, another region implicated in moral decision making, however, indicate that methamphetamine and cocaine may have a serious impact on the brain.”


    On page 56 in ‘the Master and His Emissary’, Dr. McGilchrist notes the importance of the right anterior cingulate cortex in feeling others’ pain as if it were one’s own:

    Because of the right hemisphere’s openness to the interconnectedness of things, it is interested in others as individuals, and in how we relate to them. It is the mediator of empathic identification. If I imagine myself in pain I use both hemispheres, but your pain is in my right hemisphere. The same neurones in the right anterior cingulate cortex, an area known to be associated with the appreciation of pain, show activity whether we ourselves are hurt or we witness someone else undergoing a similar painful experience. ‘Self-awareness, empathy, identification with others, and more generally inter-subjective processes, are largely dependent upon … right hemisphere resources.'”

    On page 65, Iain mentions that “deductive logic is also associated with the right ventromedial prefrontal area of the brain, an area known to be devoted to emotion and feeling.”

    Matt Dorsey replied 1 year, 6 months ago 1 Member · 0 Replies
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