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Acute fluoxetine modulates emotional processing in young adult volunteers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2015

L. P. Capitão
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK
S. E. Murphy
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK
M. Browning
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK
P. J. Cowen
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK
C. J. Harmer
University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK



Fluoxetine is generally regarded as the first-line pharmacological treatment for young people, as it is believed to show a more favourable benefit:risk ratio than other antidepressants. However, the mechanisms through which fluoxetine influences symptoms in youth have been little investigated. This study examined whether acute administration of fluoxetine in a sample of young healthy adults altered the processing of affective information, including positive, sad and anger cues.


A total of 35 male and female volunteers aged between 18 and 21 years old were randomized to receive a single 20 mg dose of fluoxetine or placebo. At 6 h after administration, participants completed a facial expression recognition task, an emotion-potentiated startle task, an attentional dot-probe task and the Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. Subjective ratings of mood, anxiety and side effects were also taken pre- and post-fluoxetine/placebo administration.


Relative to placebo-treated participants, participants receiving fluoxetine were less accurate at identifying anger and sadness and did not show the emotion-potentiated startle effect. There were no overall significant effects of fluoxetine on subjective ratings of mood.


Fluoxetine can modulate emotional processing after a single dose in young adults. This pattern of effects suggests a potential cognitive mechanism for the greater benefit:risk ratio of fluoxetine in adolescent patients.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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