Aversive disinhibition of behavior and striatal signaling in social avoidance.
ABSTRACT: Social avoidance is a major factor contributing to the development and maintenance of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Converging evidence suggests that social avoidance is associated with abnormal aversive processing and hyperactive amygdala signaling. However, what are the consequences of such abnormal aversive processing for action and for the neural mechanisms implementing action is unclear. Existing literature is conflicting, pointing at either enhanced or reduced action inhibition. We investigated the interaction between aversion and action in social avoidance by comparing the effects of aversive vs appetitive faces on a go/no-go task and associated striatal signals in 42 high and low socially avoidant individuals. We combined fMRI with a novel probabilistic learning task, in which emotional valence (angry and happy faces) and optimal response (go- and no-go-responses) were manipulated independently. High compared with low socially avoidant individuals showed reduced behavioral inhibition (proportion no-go-responses) for angry relative to happy faces. This behavioral disinhibition correlated with greater striatal signal during no-go-responses for angry relative to happy faces. The results suggest that social avoidant coping style is accompanied by disinhibition of action and striatal signal in the context of social threat. The findings concur with recent theorizing about aversive disinhibition and affective disorders.
Project description:Facial emotional expressions are a salient source of information for nonverbal social interactions. However, their impact on action planning and execution is highly controversial. In this vein, the effect of the two threatening facial expressions, i.e., angry and fearful faces, is still unclear. Frequently, fear and anger are used interchangeably as negative emotions. However, they convey different social signals. Unlike fear, anger indicates a direct threat toward the observer. To provide new evidence on this issue, we exploited a novel design based on two versions of a Go/No-go task. In the emotional version, healthy participants had to perform the same movement for pictures of fearful, angry, or happy faces and withhold it when neutral expressions were presented. The same pictures were shown in the control version, but participants had to move or suppress the movement, according to the actor's gender. This experimental design allows us to test task relevance's impact on emotional stimuli without conflating movement planning with target detection and task switching. We found that the emotional content of faces interferes with actions only when task-relevant, i.e., the effect of emotions is context-dependent. We also showed that angry faces qualitatively had the same effect as fearful faces, i.e., both negative emotions decreased response readiness with respect to happy expressions. However, anger has a much greater impact than fear, as it increases both the rates of mistakes and the time of movement execution. We interpreted these results, suggesting that participants have to exploit more cognitive resources to appraise threatening than positive facial expressions, and angry than fearful faces before acting.
Project description:Interpersonal-motivational models posit that heightened avoidance of aversive social stimuli and diminished approach of appetitive social stimuli increases social withdrawal and reduces positive social interactions, thereby increasing risk for future social anxiety and depression. The current study examined if approach-avoidance biases toward angry and happy faces, measured during the Approach Avoidance Task (AAT), would be associated with the development of adolescent depressive and social anxiety symptoms. At baseline, participants included 129 never-depressed adolescent girls (ages 11-13), two-thirds of whom were at high-risk for internalizing problems due to shy/fearful temperament. Girls reported their depressive and social anxiety symptoms every 6 months for 24 months and completed the AAT at baseline and 24-mo follow-up. Heightened avoidance bias toward angry faces at baseline predicted increases in depressive symptoms across the follow-up, even after accounting for temperament and pubertal status. In contrast, girls with greater depression and social anxiety symptoms at 24-mo follow-up exhibited less avoidance bias for angry faces at the same time point. Findings suggest that avoidance behaviors (i.e., avoiding people or settings associated with angry faces, which are often perceived as hostile, critical, or rejecting) may be a risk factor for depression, above and beyond risk imparted by temperament or advances in puberty. However, with increasing internalizing symptoms, it may become more difficult for adolescents to maintain avoidance for aversive social stimuli, and without the introduction of more adaptive emotion regulation strategies, these biases may continue to increase and maintain risk for internalizing problems.
Project description:Poor inhibitory control over negative emotional information has been identified as a possible contributor to affective disorders, but the distinct effects of emotional contrast and fearful versus angry faces on response inhibition remain unknown. In the present study, young adults completed an emotional go/no-go task involving happy, neutral, and either fearful or angry faces. Results did not reveal differences in accuracy or speed between angry and fearful face conditions. However, responses were slower and indicated poorer inhibition in blocks where threatening faces were paired with happy, versus neutral, faces. Results may reflect cognitive load of emotional valence contrast, such that higher contrast blocks (containing threatening with happy faces) produced more conflict and required more processing than lower contrast blocks (threatening with neutral faces). Preliminary findings also revealed higher anxiety and depression symptoms corresponded with slower responses and worse accuracy, consistent with patterns of adverse impacts of anxiety and depression on response inhibition to threatening faces, even at subclinical levels of symptomatology.
Project description:Perceiving faces and understanding emotions are key components of human social cognition. Prior research with adults and infants suggests that these social cognitive functions are supported by superior temporal cortex (STC) and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). We used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to characterize functional responses in these cortical regions to faces in early childhood. Three-year-old children (n = 88, M(SD) = 3.15(.16) years) passively viewed faces that varied in emotional content and valence (happy, angry, fearful, neutral) and, for fearful and angry faces, intensity (100%, 40%), while undergoing fNIRS. Bilateral STC and MPFC showed greater oxygenated hemoglobin concentration values to all faces relative to objects. MPFC additionally responded preferentially to happy faces relative to neutral faces. We did not detect preferential responses to angry or fearful faces, or overall differences in response magnitude by emotional valence (100% happy vs. fearful and angry) or intensity (100% vs. 40% fearful and angry). In exploratory analyses, preferential responses to faces in MPFC were not robustly correlated with performance on tasks of early social cognition. These results link and extend adult and infant research on functional responses to faces in STC and MPFC and contribute to the characterization of the neural correlates of early social cognition.
Project description:Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by social deficits and atypical facial processing of emotional expressions. The underlying neuropathology of these abnormalities is still unclear. Recent studies implicate cerebellum in emotional processing; other studies show cerebellar abnormalities in ASD. Here, we elucidate the spatiotemporal activation of cerebellar lobules in ASD during emotional processing of happy and angry faces in adolescents with ASD and typically developing (TD) controls. Using magnetoencephalography, we calculated dynamic statistical parametric maps across a period of 500 ms after emotional stimuli onset and determined differences between group activity to happy and angry emotions. Following happy face presentation, adolescents with ASD exhibited only left-hemispheric cerebellar activation in a cluster extending from lobule VI to lobule V (compared to TD controls). Following angry face presentation, adolescents with ASD exhibited only midline cerebellar activation (posterior IX vermis). Our findings indicate an early (125-175 ms) overactivation in cerebellar activity only for happy faces and a later overactivation for both happy (250-450 ms) and angry (250-350 ms) faces in adolescents with ASD. The prioritized hemispheric activity (happy faces) could reflect the promotion of a more flexible and adaptive social behavior, while the latter midline activity (angry faces) may guide conforming behavior.
Project description:There is evidence that people with social anxiety show abnormal processing of emotional faces. To investigate the impact of top-down prediction on emotional face processing in social anxiety, brain responses of participants with high and low social anxiety (LSA) were recorded, while they performed a variation of the emotional task, using high temporal resolution event-related potential techniques. Behaviorally, we reported an effect of prediction with higher accuracy for predictable than unpredictable faces. Furthermore, we found that participants with high social anxiety (HSA), but not with LSA, recognized angry faces more accurately than happy faces. For the P100 and P200 components, HSA participants showed enhanced brain activity for angry faces compared to happy faces, suggesting a hypervigilance to angry faces. Importantly, HSA participants exhibited larger N170 amplitudes in the right hemisphere electrodes than LSA participants when they observed unpredictable angry faces, but not when the angry faces were predictable. This probably reflects the top-down prediction improving the deficiency at building a holistic face representation in HSA participants.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Research in bipolar disorder (BD) implicates fronto-limbic-striatal dysfunction during face emotion processing but it is unknown how such dysfunction varies by task demands, face emotion and patient age. METHOD:During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 181 participants, including 62 BD (36 children and 26 adults) and 119 healthy comparison (HC) subjects (57 children and 62 adults), engaged in constrained and unconstrained processing of emotional (angry, fearful, happy) and non-emotional (neutral) faces. During constrained processing, subjects answered questions focusing their attention on the face; this was processed either implicitly (nose width rating) or explicitly (hostility; subjective fear ratings). Unconstrained processing consisted of passive viewing. RESULTS:Pediatric BD rated neutral faces as more hostile than did other groups. In BD patients, family-wise error (FWE)-corrected region of interest (ROI) analyses revealed dysfunction in the amygdala, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and putamen. Patients with BD showed amygdala hyperactivation during explicit processing (hostility ratings) of fearful faces and passive viewing of angry and neutral faces but IFG hypoactivation during implicit processing of neutral and happy faces. In the ACC and striatum, the direction of dysfunction varied by task demand: BD demonstrated hyperactivation during unconstrained processing of angry or neutral faces but hypoactivation during constrained processing (implicit or explicit) of angry, neutral or happy faces. CONCLUSIONS:Findings suggest amygdala hyperactivation in BD while processing negatively valenced and neutral faces, regardless of attentional condition, and BD IFG hypoactivation during implicit processing. In the cognitive control circuit involving the ACC and putamen, BD neural dysfunction was sensitive to task demands.
Project description:Altered attentional processing of pain-associated stimuli-which might take the form of either avoidance or enhanced vigilance-is thought to be implicated in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. In contrast to reaction time tasks like the dot probe, eye tracking allows for tracking the time course of visual attention and thus differentiating early and late attentional processes. Our study aimed at investigating visual attention to emotional faces in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain (N = 20) and matched pain-free controls (N = 20). Emotional faces (pain, angry, happy) were presented in pairs with a neutral face for 2000 ms each. Three parameters were determined: First fixation probabilities, fixation durations (overall and divided in four 500 ms intervals) and a fixation bias score as the relative fixation duration of emotional faces compared to neutral faces. There were no group differences in any of the parameters. First fixation probabilities were lower for pain faces than for angry faces. Overall, we found longer fixation duration on emotional compared to neutral faces ('emotionality bias'), which is in accord with previous research. However, significant longer fixation duration compared to the neutral face was detected only for happy and angry but not for pain faces. In addition, fixation durations as well as bias scores yielded evidence for vigilant-avoidant processing of pain faces in both groups. These results suggest that attentional bias towards pain-associated stimuli might not generally differentiate between healthy individuals and chronic pain patients. Exaggerated attentional bias in patients might occur only under specific circumstances, e.g., towards stimulus material specifically relating to the specific pain of the patients under study or under high emotional distress.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>We hypothesized that SRX246, a vasopressin V1a receptor antagonist, blocks the effect of intranasally administered vasopressin on brain processing of angry Ekman faces. An interaction of intranasal and oral drug was predicted in the amygdala.<h4>Methods</h4>Twenty-nine healthy male subjects received a baseline fMRI scan while they viewed angry faces and then were randomized to receive oral SRX246 (120 mg PO twice a day) or placebo. After an average of 7 days of treatment, they were given an acute dose of intranasal vasopressin (40 IU) or placebo and underwent a second scan. The primary outcome was BOLD activity in the amygdala in response to angry faces. Secondary analyses were focused on ROIs in a brain regions previously linked to vasopressin signaling.<h4>Results</h4>In subjects randomized to oral placebo-intranasal vasopressin, there was a significantly diminished amygdala BOLD response from the baseline to post-drug scan compared with oral placebo-intranasal placebo subjects. RM-ANOVA of the BOLD signal changes in the amygdala revealed a significant oral drug × intranasal drug × session interaction (F (1, 25) = 4.353, p < 0.05). Follow-up tests showed that antagonism of AVPR1a with SRX246 blocked the effect of intranasal vasopressin on the neural response to angry faces. Secondary analyses revealed that SRX246 treatment was associated with significantly attenuated BOLD responses to angry faces in the right temporoparietal junction, precuneus, anterior cingulate, and putamen. Exploratory analyses revealed that the interactive and main effects of intranasal vasopressin and SRX246 were not seen for happy or neutral faces, but were detected for aversive faces (fear + anger) and at a trend level for fear faces.<h4>Conclusion</h4>We found confirmatory evidence that SRX246 has effects on the amygdala that counter the effects of intranasal vasopressin. These effects were strongest for angry faces, but may generalize to other emotions with an aversive quality.
Project description:Social interaction requires fast and efficient processing of another person's intentions. In face-to-face interactions, aversive or appetitive actions typically co-occur with emotional expressions, allowing an observer to anticipate action intentions. In the present study, we investigated the influence of facial emotions on the processing of action intentions. Thirty-two participants were presented with video clips showing virtual agents displaying a facial emotion (angry vs. happy) while performing an action (punch vs. fist-bump) directed towards the observer. During each trial, video clips stopped at varying durations of the unfolding action, and participants had to recognize the presented action. Naturally, participants' recognition accuracy improved with increasing duration of the unfolding actions. Interestingly, while facial emotions did not influence accuracy, there was a significant influence on participants' action judgements. Participants were more likely to judge a presented action as a punch when agents showed an angry compared to a happy facial emotion. This effect was more pronounced in short video clips, showing only the beginning of an unfolding action, than in long video clips, showing near-complete actions. These results suggest that facial emotions influence anticipatory processing of action intentions allowing for fast and adaptive responses in social interactions.