Serotoninergic effects on judgments and social learning of trustworthiness

Arndis Simonsen, Jorgen Scheel-Kruger, Mads Jensen, Andreas Roepstorff, Arne Møller, Chris D. Frith, Daniel K. Campbell-Meiklejohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Certain disorders, such as depression and anxiety, to which serotonin dysfunction is historically associated, are also associated with lower assessments of other people's trustworthiness. Serotonergic changes are known to alter cognitive responses to threatening stimuli. This effect may manifest socially as reduced apparent trustworthiness of others. Trustworthiness judgments can emerge from either direct observation or references provided by third parties.

Objective: We assessed whether explicit judgments of trustworthiness and social influences on those judgments are altered by changes within serotonergic systems.

Methods: We implemented a double-blind between-subject design where 20 healthy female volunteers received a single dose of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) citalopram (2 × 20 mg), while 20 control subjects (matched on age, intelligence, and years of education) received a placebo. Subjects performed a face-rating task assessing how trustworthy they found 153 unfamiliar others (targets). After each rating, the subjects were told how other subjects, on average, rated the same target. The subjects then performed 30 min of distractor tasks before, unexpectedly, being asked to rate all 153 faces again, in a random order.

Results: Compared to subjects receiving a placebo, subjects receiving citalopram rated targets as less trustworthy. They also conformed more to opinions of others, when others rated targets to be even less trustworthy than subjects had initially indicated. The two effects were independent of negative effects of citalopram on subjective state.

Conclusions: This is evidence that serotonin systems can mediate explicit assessment and social learning of the trustworthiness of others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2759-69
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Serotonin
  • SSRI
  • Trustworthiness
  • Social learning
  • Threat processing
  • Mood and anxiety disorders


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