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Broadening Your Mind to Include Others: The relationship between serotonergic psychedelic experiences and maladaptive narcissism

Abstract

Rationale

Recent research has shown that classical serotonergic psychedelic (CSP) drugs may be used to ameliorate certain health issues and disorders. Here we hypothesised that CSP experiences, through their ability to induce awe and ego-dissolution, may result in a reduction of maladaptive narcissistic personality traits, such as a strong sense of entitlement and lack of empathy.

Objectives

Our objective was to investigate whether high levels of awe and ego dissolution during recent CSP experiences are associated with currently lower levels of maladaptive narcissism.

Methods

In this pre-registered high-powered (N = 414) study, we used an online retrospective survey asking participants to describe their ‘most awe-inspiring, impressive, significant, or emotionally intense experience’, as well as several validated scales to test our hypothesis.

Results

A statistically significant mediation model indicated that recent CSP-induced experiences were associated with currently increased feelings of connectedness and affective empathetic drive, which in turn were associated with decreased exploitative-entitled narcissism. This relationship held even when taking into account sensation-seeking personality features. We found no evidence for feelings of ego dissolution to have the same effect.

Conclusions

Feelings of awe, but not ego dissolution, during recent CSP experiences were associated with increased feelings of connectedness and empathy, which in turn were associated with decreased levels of maladaptive narcissism personality features. This suggests that CSPs hold therapeutic potential for disorders involving connectedness and empathy, such as the treatment of pathological narcissism, and that the induction of connectedness through awe appears to be the driving force behind this potential.

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Correspondence to Valerie van Mulukom.

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van Mulukom, V., Patterson, R.E. & van Elk, M. Broadening Your Mind to Include Others: The relationship between serotonergic psychedelic experiences and maladaptive narcissism. Psychopharmacology 237, 2725–2737 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-020-05568-y

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Keywords

  • Psychedelics
  • Narcissism
  • Awe
  • Empathy
  • Ego
  • Connectedness
  • Serotonergic
  • Personality