Effect of acute citalopram on self-referential emotional processing and social cognition in healthy volunteers

Catherine Hobbs, Susannah Murphy, Lucy Wright, James Carson, Indra Van Assche, Jessica O'Brien, Mayowa Oyesanya, Jie Sui, Marcus Munafo, David Kessler, Catherine Harmer, Katherine Button

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4 Citations (SciVal)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere124
JournalBJPsych Open
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2020


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