Atypical modulation of medial prefrontal cortex to self-referential comments in generalized social phobia.
ABSTRACT: Generalized social phobia (GSP) involves the fear of being negatively evaluated. Previous work suggests that self-referentiality, mediated by the medial prefrontal cortex (MFPC), plays an important role in the disorder. However, it is not clear whether this anomalous MPFC response to self-related information in patients with GSP concerns an increased representation of their own or others' opinions. In this article, we examine whether GSP is associated with increased response to own (1st person) or other individuals' (2nd person) opinions relative to healthy individuals. Unmedicated individuals with GSP (n=15) and age-, IQ-, and gender-matched comparison individuals (n=15) read 1st (e.g., I'm ugly), and 2nd (e.g., You're ugly) person viewpoint comments during functional magnetic resonance imaging. We observed significant group-by-viewpoint interactions within the ventral MPFC. Whereas the healthy comparison individuals showed significantly increased (or less decreased) BOLD responses to 1st relative to 2nd person viewpoints, the patients showed significantly increased responses to 2nd relative to 1st person viewpoints. The reduced BOLD responses to 1st person viewpoint comments shown by the patients correlated significantly with severity of social anxiety symptom severity. These results underscore the importance of dysfunctional self-referential processing and MPFC in GSP. We believe that these data reflect a reorganization of self-referential reasoning in the disorder with a self-concept perhaps atypically related to the view of others.
Project description:Previous research suggests that people show increased self-referential processing when they provide criticism to others, and that this self-referential processing can have negative effects on interpersonal perceptions and behavior. The current research hypothesized that adopting a self-distanced perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a non-first person point of view), as compared with a typical self-immersed perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a first-person point of view), would reduce self-referential processing during the provision of criticism, and in turn improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior. We tested this hypothesis in an interracial context since research suggests that self-referential processing plays a role in damaging interracial relations. White participants prepared for mentorship from a self-immersed or self-distanced perspective. They then conveyed negative and positive evaluations to a Black mentee while electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded. Source analysis revealed that priming a self-distanced (vs self-immersed) perspective predicted decreased activity in regions linked to self-referential processing (medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC) when providing negative evaluations. This decreased MPFC activity during negative evaluations, in turn, predicted verbal feedback that was perceived to be more positive, warm and helpful. Results suggest that self-distancing can improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior by decreasing self-referential processing during the provision of criticism.
Project description:Transgender individuals experience incongruence between their gender identity and birth-assigned sex. The resulting gender dysphoria (GD), which some gender-incongruent individuals experience, is theorized to be a consequence of atypical cerebral sexual differentiation, but support for this assertion is inconsistent. We recently found that GD is associated with disconnected networks involved in self-referential thinking and own body perception. Here, we investigate how these networks in trans men (assigned female at birth with male gender identity) are affected by testosterone. In 22 trans men, we obtained T1-weighted, diffusion-weighted, and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans before and after testosterone treatment, measuring cortical thickness (Cth), subcortical volumes, fractional anisotropy (FA), and functional connectivity. Nineteen cisgender controls (male and female) were also scanned twice. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was thicker in trans men than controls pretreatment, and remained unchanged posttreatment. Testosterone treatment resulted in increased Cth in the insular cortex, changes in cortico-cortical thickness covariation between mPFC and occipital cortex, increased FA in the fronto-occipital tract connecting these regions, and increased functional connectivity between mPFC and temporo-parietal junction, compared with controls. Concluding, in trans men testosterone treatment resulted in functional and structural changes in self-referential and own body perception areas.
Project description:Why do interactions become more hostile when social relations shift from "me versus you" to "us versus them"? One possibility is that acting with a group can reduce spontaneous self-referential processing in the moral domain and, in turn, facilitate competitor harm. We tested this hypothesis in an fMRI experiment in which (i) participants performed a competitive task once alone and once with a group; (ii) spontaneous self-referential processing during competition was indexed unobtrusively by activation in an independently localized region of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) associated with self-reference; and (iii) we assessed participants' willingness to harm competitors versus teammates. As predicted, participants who showed reduced mPFC activation in response to descriptions of their own moral behaviors while competing in a group were more willing to harm competitors. These results suggest that intergroup competition (above and beyond inter-personal competition) can reduce self-referential processing of moral information, enabling harmful behaviors towards members of a competitive group.
Project description:The story of our lifetime - our narrative self - is constructed from our autobiographical memories. A central claim of social psychology is that this narrative self is inherently social: When we construct our lives, we do so in a real or imagined interaction. This predicts that self-referential processes which are involved in recall of autobiographical memories overlap with processes involved in social interactions. Indeed, previous functional MRI studies indicate that regions in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are activated during autobiographical memory recall and virtual communication. However, no fMRI study has investigated recall of autobiographical memories in a real-life interaction. We developed a novel paradigm in which participants overtly reported self-related and other-related memories to an experimenter, whose non-verbal reactions were being filmed and online displayed to the participants in the scanner. We found that recall of autobiographical vs. non-autobiographical memories was associated with activation of the mPFC, as was recall in the social as compared to a non-social control condition; however, both contrasts involved different non-overlapping regions within the mPFC. These results indicate that self-referential processes involved in autobiographical memory recall are different from processes supporting social interactions, and argue against the hypothesis that autobiographical memories are inherently social.
Project description:Self-referential processing relies mainly on the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and enhances memory encoding (i.e., Self-Reference Effect, SRE) as it improves the accuracy and richness of remembering in both young and older adults. However, studies on age-related changes in the neural correlates of the SRE on the subjective (i.e., autonoetic consciousness) and the objective (i.e., source memory) qualitative features of episodic memory are lacking. In the present fMRI study, we compared the effects of a self-related (semantic autobiographical memory task) and a non self-related (general semantic memory task) encoding condition on subsequent episodic memory retrieval. We investigated encoding-related activity during each condition in two groups of 19 younger and 16 older adults. Behaviorally, the SRE improved subjective memory performance in both groups but objective memory only in young adults. At the neural level, a direct comparison between self-related and non self-related conditions revealed that SRE mainly activated the cortical midline system, especially the MPFC, in both groups. Additionally, in older adults and regardless of the condition, greater activity was found in a fronto-parietal network. Overall, correlations were noted between source memory performance and activity in the MPFC (irrespective of age) and visual areas (mediated by age). Thus, the present findings expand evidence of the role of the MPFC in self-referential processing in the context of source memory benefit in both young and older adults using incidental encoding via semantic autobiographical memory. However, our finding suggests that its role is less effective in aging.
Project description:Despite the importance of valuing another person's welfare for prosocial behavior, currently we have only a limited understanding of how these values are represented in the brain and, more importantly, how they give rise to individual variability in prosociality. In the present study, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a prosocial learning task in which they could choose to benefit themselves and/or another person. Choice behavior indicated that participants valued the welfare of another person, although less so than they valued their own welfare. Neural data revealed a spatial gradient in activity within the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), such that ventral parts predominantly represented self-regarding values and dorsal parts predominantly represented other-regarding values. Importantly, compared with selfish individuals, prosocial individuals showed a more gradual transition from self-regarding to other-regarding value signals in the MPFC and stronger MPFC-striatum coupling when they made choices for another person rather than for themselves. The present study provides evidence of neural markers reflecting individual differences in human prosociality.
Project description:Western cultures encourage self-construals independent of social contexts, whereas East Asian cultures foster interdependent self-construals that rely on how others perceive the self. How are culturally specific self-construals mediated by the human brain? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we monitored neural responses from adults in East Asian (Chinese) and Western (Danish) cultural contexts during judgments of social, mental and physical attributes of themselves and public figures to assess cultural influences on self-referential processing of personal attributes in different dimensions. We found that judgments of self vs a public figure elicited greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in Danish than in Chinese participants regardless of attribute dimensions for judgments. However, self-judgments of social attributes induced greater activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in Chinese than in Danish participants. Moreover, the group difference in TPJ activity was mediated by a measure of a cultural value (i.e. interdependence of self-construal). Our findings suggest that individuals in different sociocultural contexts may learn and/or adopt distinct strategies for self-reflection by changing the weight of the mPFC and TPJ in the social brain network.
Project description:One useful strategy for inferring others' mental states (i.e., mentalizing) may be to use one's own thoughts, feelings, and desires as a proxy for those of other people. Such self-referential accounts of social cognition are supported by recent neuroimaging observations that a single brain region, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), is engaged both by tasks that require introspections about self and by tasks that require inferences about the minds of others perceived to be similar to self. To test whether people automatically refer to their own mental states when considering those of a similar other, we examined repetition-related suppression of vMPFC response during self-reflections that followed either an initial reflection about self or a judgment of another person. Consistent with the hypothesis that perceivers spontaneously engage in self-referential processing when mentalizing about particular individuals, vMPFC response was suppressed when self-reflections followed either an initial reflection about self or a judgment of a similar, but not a dissimilar, other. These results suggest that thinking about the mind of another person may rely importantly on reference to one's own mental characteristics.
Project description:Oxytocin (OT) influences other-oriented mental processes (e.g. trust and empathy) and the underlying neural substrates. However, whether and how OT modulates self-oriented processes and the underlying brain activity remains unclear. Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled between-subjects design, we manipulated memory encoding and retrieval of trait adjectives related to the self, a friend and a celebrity in a self-referential task in male adults. Experiment 1 (N?=?51) found that OT vs placebo treatments reduced response times during encoding self-related trait adjectives but increased recognition scores of self-related information during memory retrieval. Experiment 2 (N?=?50) showed similar OT effects on response times during encoding self-related trait adjectives. Moreover, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) results revealed that OT vs placebo treatments decreased the activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) involved in encoding of self-related trait adjectives and weakened the coupling between the MPFC activity and a cultural trait (i.e. interdependence). Experiment 3 (N?=?52) revealed that OT vs placebo treatments increased the right superior frontal activity during memory retrieval of self-related information. The results provide behavioral and fMRI evidence for OT effects on self-referential processing and suggest distinct patterns of OT modulations of brain activities engaged in encoding and retrieval of self-related information.
Project description:Introduction:Self-referential processing is a key component of the emotional self-concept. Previous studies have shown that emotional self-referential processing is related to structure and function of cortical midline areas such as medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and that it can be altered on a behavioral level by specific mental training practices. However, it remains unknown how behavioral training-related change in emotional self-concept content relates to structural plasticity. Methods:To address this issue, we examined the relationship between training-induced change in participant's emotional self-concept measured through emotional word use in the Twenty Statement Test and change in cortical thickness in the context of a large-scale longitudinal mental training study called the ReSource Project. Results:Based on prior behavioral findings showing increased emotional word use particularly after socio-cognitive training targeting perspective-taking capacities, this study extended these results by revealing that individual differences in the degree to which participants changed their emotional self-concept after training was positively related to cortical thickness change in right mPFC extending to dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC). Furthermore, increased self-related negative emotional word use after training was positively associated with cortical thickness change in left pars orbitalis and bilateral dlPFC. Conclusions:Our findings reveal training-related structural brain change in regions known to be involved in self-referential processing and cognitive control, and could indicate a relationship between restructuring of the emotional self-concept content as well as reappraisal of negative aspects and cortical thickness change. As such, our findings can guide the development of psychological interventions targeted to alter specific facets of the self-concept.