Adults with antisocial personality disorder with (ASPD?+?P) and without (ASPD?–?P) psychopathy commit the majority of violent crimes in society. Abnormalities of social cognition underpin the dysfunctional interpersonal relations that are the hallmark of these disorders, but effective pharmacological treatments are yet to be developed. Impairments in the processing of frustration, affiliation and reward learning in such men have been demonstrated by our group and others. Our group were the first to show that the social neuropeptide oxytocin can normalize the functional deficits of empathic processing in psychopathy.
This project will explore whether the serotoninergic agent MDMA has the potential to reduce frustration in the absence of a reward, to promote affiliation and to improve social reward learning, and to explore differential effects in the +P/-P groups. In a placebo-controlled, randomized crossover design, violent offenders (men with ASPD?+?P or ASPD?–?P) and healthy non-offenders will receive MDMA or placebo and then complete a battery of fMRI tasks assessing behavioural responses to social provocation, co-operation, and social reward learning. The results of this work have the potential to inform the development of treatment approaches in disorders with significant personal and societal impact.
The overarching objectives are: Year 1: Clinical assessment, neuroimaging acquisition and analysis training; systematic review and meta-analysis of serotoninergic abnormalities in violent antisocial behaviours Year 2: RCT neuroimaging data acquisition Year 3: Analysis and write up of dataset
The student will be embedded in Europe’s leading clinical research group in neurodevelopmental disorders, with a committed PhD student cohort, where they will develop cutting edge skills in clinical ‘deep phenotyping’ assessment and in structural and functional neuroimaging analysis.