Depression is characterised by negative views of the self. Antidepressant treatment may remediate negative self-schema through increasing processing of positive information about the self. Changes in affective processing during social interactions may increase expression of prosocial behaviours, improving interpersonal communications.
To examine whether acute administration of citalopram is associated with an increase in positive affective learning biases about the self and prosocial behaviour.
Healthy volunteers (n = 41) were randomised to either an acute 20 mg dose of citalopram or matched placebo in a between-subjects double-blind design. Participants completed computer-based cognitive tasks designed to measure referential affective processing, social cognition and expression of prosocial behaviours.
Participants administered citalopram made more cooperative choices than those administered placebo in a prisoner's dilemma task (β = 20%, 95% CI: 2%, 37%). Exploratory analyses indicated that participants administered citalopram showed a positive bias when learning social evaluations about a friend (β = 4.06, 95% CI: 0.88, 7.24), but not about the self or a stranger. Similarly, exploratory analyses found evidence of increased recall of positive words and reduced recall of negative words about others (β = 2.41, 95% CI: 0.89, 3.93), but not the self, in the citalopram group.
Participants administered citalopram showed greater prosocial behaviours, increased positive recall and increased positive learning of social evaluations towards others. The increase in positive affective bias and prosocial behaviours towards others may, at least partially, be a mechanism of antidepressant effect. However, we found no evidence that citalopram influenced self-referential processing.
Bibliographical noteThis study was funded by the UK National Productivity Investment Fund awarded to C.H. through the GW4 BioMed Medical Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership. This study was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Health Service, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
ICMJE forms are in the supplementary material, available online at https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2020.107.
- cognitive neuroscience
- social functioning
- psychological testing
- depressive disorders
- NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL MODEL
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Hobbs, C. (Contributor), Murphy, S. E. (Contributor), Wright, L. (Contributor), Carson, J. (Contributor), Indra, V. A. (Contributor), O'Brien, J. (Contributor), Oyesanya, M. (Contributor), Sui, J. (Contributor), Munafo, M. R. (Contributor), Kessler, D. (Contributor), Harmer, C. J. (Contributor) & Button, K. (Contributor), University of Bath, 1 Jan 2020