Background and Hypothesis

Diminished social motivation is a negative symptom of schizophrenia and leads to severe functional consequences for many patients suffering from the illness. However, there are no effective medications available to treat this symptom. Despite the lack of approved treatments for patients, there is a growing body of literature on the effects of several classes of drugs on social motivation in healthy volunteers that may be relevant to patients. The aim of this review is to synthesize these results in an effort to identify novel directions for the development of medications to treat reduced social motivation in schizophrenia.

Study Design

In this article, we review pharmacologic challenge studies addressing the acute effects of psychoactive drugs on social motivation in healthy volunteers and consider how these findings may be applied to deficits in social motivation in schizophrenia. We include studies testing amphetamines and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), opioids, cannabis, serotonergic psychedelics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and neuropeptides.

Study Results

We report that amphetamines, MDMA, and some opioid medications enhance social motivation in healthy adults and may represent promising avenues of investigation in schizophrenia.

Conclusions

Given the acute effects of these drugs on behavioral and performance-based measures of social motivation in healthy volunteers, they may be particularly beneficial as an adjunct to psychosocial training programs in patient populations. It remains to be determined how these medications affect patients with deficits in social motivation, and in which contexts they may be most effectively administered.

This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.