Persisting Effects of Ayahuasca on Empathy, Creative Thinking, Decentering, Personality, and Well-Being

Maggie K Kiraga, Natasha L Mason, Malin V Uthaug, Kim I M van Oorsouw, Stefan W Toennes, Johannes G Ramaekers, Kim P C Kuypers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Naturalistic and placebo-controlled studies have suggested that ayahuasca, a traditional Amazonian beverage, could be helpful in the treatment of psychopathologies like depression and anxiety disorders by changing otherwise disturbed cognitive and emotional processes. To better understand its full therapeutic potential, one way is to study the effects on processes like flexible thinking, empathy, and well-being, which are normally compromised in stress-related psychopathologies. Materials and Methods: Volunteers attending ayahuasca ceremonies were asked to complete a test battery at three separate occasions: baseline, the morning after, and 1 week after the ceremony. We included the constructs of creative thinking (measured by Picture Concept Test), empathy (Multifaceted Empathy Test), satisfaction with life (Satisfaction with Life Scale), decentering (Experiences Questionnaire), and personality (Big Five Inventory) into the test battery. Additionally, the psychedelic experience was quantified with the Persisting Effects Questionnaire, the Ego Dissolution Scale, and Visual Analogue Scales. Results: In total, 43 attendees (males = 22; females = 21) completed parts of the baseline assessment, 20 (males = 12; females = 8) completed assessments in the morning after the ceremony, and 19 (males = 14; females = 5) completed assessments at the 1-week follow-up. At one and 7 days post-ceremony, cognitive empathy, satisfaction with life, and decentering increased, while divergent thinking (Fluency corrected for Originality) decreased, when compared to baseline. Implicit emotional empathy increased at 1-week follow-up, whereas ratings of the trait neuroticism decreased. Conclusion: The study suggests that a single ingestion of ayahuasca in a social setting is associated with enhancement of subjective well-being, an enhanced ability to take an objective and non-judging stance towards the self (decentering), and the ability to correctly recognize emotions in others, compared to baseline, lasting up to 1 week post-ceremony. To understand the therapeutic potential related to these effects, further research with clinical populations is needed in which these effects can be assessed, including its link with therapeutic outcomes. Together, this will increase our understanding of the effectiveness and breadth of future therapeutic options.

Original languageEnglish
Article number721537
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • ayahuasca ceremony
  • persisting effects
  • empathy
  • creativity
  • well-being
  • decentering


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