A lesion model of envy and Schadenfreude: legal, deservingness and moral dimensions as revealed by neurodegeneration.
ABSTRACT: The study of moral emotions (i.e. Schadenfreude and envy) is critical to understand the ecological complexity of everyday interactions between cognitive, affective, and social cognition processes. Most previous studies in this area have used correlational imaging techniques and framed Schadenfreude and envy as unified and monolithic emotional domains. Here, we profit from a relevant neurodegeneration model to disentangle the brain regions engaged in three dimensions of Schadenfreude and envy: deservingness, morality, and legality. We tested a group of patients with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), patients with Alzheimer's disease, as a contrastive neurodegeneration model, and healthy controls on a novel task highlighting each of these dimensions in scenarios eliciting Schadenfreude and envy. Compared with the Alzheimer's disease and control groups, patients with bvFTD obtained significantly higher scores on all dimensions for both emotions. Correlational analyses revealed an association between envy and Schadenfreude scores and greater deficits in social cognition, inhibitory control, and behaviour disturbances in bvFTD patients. Brain anatomy findings (restricted to bvFTD and controls) confirmed the partially dissociable nature of the moral emotions' experiences and highlighted the importance of socio-moral brain areas in processing those emotions. In all subjects, an association emerged between Schadenfreude and the ventral striatum, and between envy and the anterior cingulate cortex. In addition, the results supported an association between scores for moral and legal transgression and the morphology of areas implicated in emotional appraisal, including the amygdala and the parahippocampus. By contrast, bvFTD patients exhibited a negative association between increased Schadenfreude and envy across dimensions and critical regions supporting social-value rewards and social-moral processes (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, angular gyrus and precuneus). Together, this study provides lesion-based evidence for the multidimensional nature of the emotional experiences of envy and Schadenfreude. Our results offer new insights into the mechanisms subsuming complex emotions and moral cognition in neurodegeneration. Moreover, this study presents the exacerbation of envy and Schadenfreude as a new potential hallmark of bvFTD that could impact in diagnosis and progression.
Project description:Pregnancy and puerperium are typified by marked biobehavioral changes. These changes, which are traceable in both mothers and fathers, play an important role in parenthood and may modulate social cognition abilities. However, the latter effects remain notably unexplored in parents of newborns (PNs). To bridge this gap, we assessed empathy and social emotions (envy and Schadenfreude) in 55 PNs and 60 controls (childless healthy participants without a romantic relationship or sexual intercourse in the previous 48?hours). We used facial electromyography to detect physiological signatures of social emotion processing. Results revealed higher levels of affective empathy and Schadenfreude in PNs, the latter pattern being accompanied by increased activity of the corrugator suppercilii region. These effects were not explained by potential confounding variables (educational level, executive functioning, depression, stress levels, hours of sleep). Our novel findings suggest that PNs might show social cognition changes crucial for parental bonding and newborn care.
Project description:Frontostriatal disorders, such as Parkinson's disease (PD), are characterized by progressive disruption of cortico-subcortical dopaminergic loops involved in diverse higher-order domains, including language. Indeed, syntactic and emotional language tasks have emerged as potential biomarkers of frontostriatal disturbances. However, relevant studies and models have typically considered these linguistic dimensions in isolation, overlooking the potential advantages of targeting multidimensional markers. Here, we examined whether patient classification can be improved through the <i>joint assessment</i> of both dimensions using sentential stimuli. We evaluated 31 early PD patients and 24 healthy controls <i>via</i> two syntactic measures (functional-role assignment, parsing of long-distance dependencies) and a verbal task tapping social emotions (envy, <i>Schadenfreude</i>) and compared their classification accuracy when analyzed in isolation and in combination. Complementarily, we replicated our approach to discriminate between patients on and off medication. Results showed that specific measures of each dimension were selectively impaired in PD. In particular, joint analysis of outcomes in functional-role assignment and <i>Schadenfreude</i> improved the classification accuracy of patients and controls, irrespective of their overall cognitive and affective state. These results suggest that multidimensional linguistic assessments may better capture the complexity and multi-functional impact of frontostriatal disruptions, highlighting their potential contributions in the ongoing quest for sensitive markers of PD.
Project description:<h4>Introduction</h4>Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) is associated with abnormal emotion recognition and moral processing.<h4>Methods</h4>We assessed emotion detection, discrimination, matching, selection, and categorization as well as judgments of nonmoral, moral impersonal, moral personal low- and high-conflict scenarios.<h4>Results</h4>bvFTD patients gave more utilitarian responses on low-conflict personal moral dilemmas. There was a significant correlation between a facial emotion processing measure derived through principal component analysis and utilitarian responses on low-conflict personal scenarios in the bvFTD group (controlling for MMSE-score and syntactic abilities). Voxel-based morphometric multiple regression analysis in the bvFTD group revealed a significant association between the proportion of utilitarian responses on personal low-conflict dilemmas and gray matter volume in ventromedial prefrontal areas (<i>p</i><sub>height</sub> < .0001). In addition, there was a correlation between utilitarian responses on low-conflict personal scenarios in the bvFTD group and resting-state fractional Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuations (fALFF) in the anterior insula (<i>p</i><sub>height</sub> < .005).<h4>Conclusions</h4>The results underscore the importance of emotions in moral cognition and suggest a common basis for deficits in both abilities, possibly related to reduced experience of emotional sensations. At the neural level abnormal moral cognition in bvFTD is related to structural integrity of the medial prefrontal cortex and functional characteristics of the anterior insula. The present findings provide a common basis for emotion recognition and moral reasoning and link them with areas in the default mode and salience network.
Project description:People often fail to empathize with outgroup members, and sometimes even experience Schadenfreude-pleasure-in response to their misfortunes. One potent predictor of Schadenfreude is envy. According to the Stereotype Content Model, envy is elicited by groups whose stereotypes comprise status and competitiveness. These are the first studies to investigate whether stereotypes are sufficient to elicit pleasure in response to high-status, competitive targets' misfortunes. Study 1 participants feel least negative when misfortunes befall high-status, competitive targets as compared to other social targets; participants' facial muscles simultaneously exhibit a pattern consistent with positive affect (i.e., smiling). Study 2 attenuates the Schadenfreude response by manipulating status and competition-relevant information; Schadenfreude decreases when the target-group member has lowered status or is cooperative. Stereotypes' specific content, and not just individual relationships with targets themselves, can predict Schadenfreude.
Project description:Prior work has established that analytic thinking is associated with disbelief in God, whereas religious and spiritual beliefs have been positively linked to social and emotional cognition. However, social and emotional cognition can be subdivided into a number of distinct dimensions, and some work suggests that analytic thinking is in tension with some aspects of social-emotional cognition. This leaves open two questions. First, is belief linked to social and emotional cognition in general, or a specific dimension in particular? Second, does the negative relationship between belief and analytic thinking still hold after relationships with social and emotional cognition are taken into account? We report eight hypothesis-driven studies which examine these questions. These studies are guided by a theoretical model which focuses on the distinct social and emotional processing deficits associated with autism spectrum disorders (mentalizing) and psychopathy (moral concern). To our knowledge no other study has investigated both of these dimensions of social and emotion cognition alongside analytic thinking. We find that religious belief is robustly positively associated with moral concern (4 measures), and that at least part of the negative association between belief and analytic thinking (2 measures) can be explained by a negative correlation between moral concern and analytic thinking. Using nine different measures of mentalizing, we found no evidence of a relationship between mentalizing and religious or spiritual belief. These findings challenge the theoretical view that religious and spiritual beliefs are linked to the perception of agency, and suggest that gender differences in religious belief can be explained by differences in moral concern. These findings are consistent with the opposing domains hypothesis, according to which brain areas associated with moral concern and analytic thinking are in tension.
Project description:Faced with a moral dilemma, conflict arises between a cognitive controlled response aimed at maximizing welfare, i.e. the utilitarian judgment, and an emotional aversion to harm, i.e. the deontological judgment. In the present study, we investigated moral judgment in adult individuals with high functioning autism/Asperger syndrome (HFA/AS), a clinical population characterized by impairments in prosocial emotions and social cognition. In Experiment 1, we compared the response patterns of HFA/AS participants and neurotypical controls to moral dilemmas with low and high emotional saliency. We found that HFA/AS participants more frequently delivered the utilitarian judgment. Their perception of appropriateness of moral transgression was similar to that of controls, but HFA/AS participants reported decreased levels of emotional reaction to the dilemma. In Experiment 2, we explored the way in which demographic, clinical and social cognition variables including emotional and cognitive aspects of empathy and theory of mind influenced moral judgment. We found that utilitarian HFA/AS participants showed a decreased ability to infer other people's thoughts and to understand their intentions, as measured both by performance on neuropsychological tests and through dispositional measures. We conclude that greater prevalence of utilitarianism in HFA/AS is associated with difficulties in specific aspects of social cognition.
Project description:Loss of empathy is an early central symptom and diagnostic criterion of the behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). Although changes in empathy are evident and strongly affect the social functioning of bvFTD patients, few studies have directly investigated this issue by means of experimental paradigms. The current study assessed multiple components of empathy (affective, cognitive and moral) in bvFTD patients. We also explored whether the loss of empathy constitutes a primary deficit of bvFTD or whether it is explained by impairments in executive functions (EF) or other social cognition domains. Thirty-seven bvFTD patients with early/mild stages of the disease and 30 healthy control participants were assessed with a task that involves the perception of intentional and accidental harm. Participants were also evaluated on emotion recognition, theory of mind (ToM), social norms knowledge and several EF domains. BvFTD patients presented deficits in affective, cognitive and moral aspects of empathy. However, empathic concern was the only aspect primarily affected in bvFTD that was neither related nor explained by deficits in EF or other social cognition domains. Deficits in the cognitive and moral aspects of empathy seem to depend on EF, emotion recognition and ToM. Our findings highlight the importance of using tasks depicting real-life social scenarios because of their greater sensitivity in the assessment of bvFTD. Moreover, our results contribute to the understanding of primary and intrinsic empathy deficits of bvFTD and have important theoretical and clinical implications.
Project description:The ability to identify the emotions of others is a key component of what is known as social cognition. Narratives exploit this mechanism to create an emotional bond with the characters and to maintain the engagement of the audience throughout the story. In this paper, we illustrate a case study in emotion understanding in stories that exploits a computational agent to explore emotion impairment in a group of traumatic brain injured people. The study focuses on moral emotions, aiming to investigate the differences in moral functioning that characterize traumatic brain injured patients. After comparing the understanding of the moral and emotional facets of the agent's behavior in traumatic brain injured patients and in neurologically intact controls, slight-yet meaningful-differences were observed between the two groups. We describe the test methodology and results, highlighting their implications for the design of rehabilitation applications based on virtual agents.
Project description:BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Human morality has been investigated using a variety of tasks ranging from judgments of hypothetical dilemmas to viewing morally salient stimuli. These experiments have provided insight into neural correlates of moral judgments and emotions, yet these approaches reveal important differences in moral cognition. Moral reasoning tasks require active deliberation while moral emotion tasks involve the perception of stimuli with moral implications. We examined convergent and divergent brain activity associated with these experimental paradigms taking a quantitative meta-analytic approach. DATA SOURCE: A systematic search of the literature yielded 40 studies. Studies involving explicit decisions in a moral situation were categorized as active (n = 22); studies evoking moral emotions were categorized as passive (n = 18). We conducted a coordinate-based meta-analysis using the Activation Likelihood Estimation to determine reliable patterns of brain activity. RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS: Results revealed a convergent pattern of reliable brain activity for both task categories in regions of the default network, consistent with the social and contextual information processes supported by this brain network. Active tasks revealed more reliable activity in the temporoparietal junction, angular gyrus and temporal pole. Active tasks demand deliberative reasoning and may disproportionately involve the retrieval of social knowledge from memory, mental state attribution, and construction of the context through associative processes. In contrast, passive tasks reliably engaged regions associated with visual and emotional information processing, including lingual gyrus and the amygdala. A laterality effect was observed in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, with active tasks engaging the left, and passive tasks engaging the right. While overlapping activity patterns suggest a shared neural network for both tasks, differential activity suggests that processing of moral input is affected by task demands. The results provide novel insight into distinct features of moral cognition, including the generation of moral context through associative processes and the perceptual detection of moral salience.
Project description:Impairments of social cognition are often leading features in frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and likely to reflect large-scale brain network disintegration. However, the neuroanatomical basis of impaired social cognition in FTLD and the role of white matter connections have not been defined. Here we assessed social cognition in a cohort of patients representing two core syndromes of FTLD, behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD; n = 29) and semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA; n = 15), relative to healthy older individuals (n = 37) using two components of the Awareness of Social Inference Test, canonical emotion identification and sarcasm identification. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to derive white matter tract correlates of social cognition performance and compared with the distribution of grey matter atrophy on voxel-based morphometry. The bvFTD and svPPA groups showed comparably severe deficits for identification of canonical emotions and sarcasm, and these deficits were correlated with distributed and overlapping white matter tract alterations particularly affecting frontotemporal connections in the right cerebral hemisphere. The most robust DTI associations were identified in white matter tracts linking cognitive and evaluative processing with emotional responses: anterior thalamic radiation, fornix (emotion identification) and uncinate fasciculus (sarcasm identification). DTI associations of impaired social cognition were more consistent than corresponding grey matter associations. These findings delineate a brain network substrate for the social impairment that characterises FTLD syndromes. The findings further suggest that DTI can generate sensitive and functionally relevant indexes of white matter damage in FTLD, with potential to transcend conventional syndrome boundaries.