Oxytocin Facilitates Empathic- and Self-embarrassment Ratings by Attenuating Amygdala and Anterior Insula Responses.
ABSTRACT: The hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin has been reported to enhance emotional empathy in association with reduced amygdala activation, although to date studies have not investigated empathy for individuals expressing self-conscious, moral emotions which engage mentalizing as well as emotion processing networks. In the current randomized, double-blind placebo controlled functional MRI experiment in 70 male and female subjects we have therefore investigated the effects of intranasal oxytocin (40 IU) on behavioral and neural responses to embarrassment experienced by others or by self. Results showed that oxytocin significantly increased ratings of both empathic and self-embarrassment and concomitantly decreased skin conductance response, activation in the right amygdala and insula but not in the medial prefrontal cortex. The amygdala effects of oxytocin were associated with the magnitude of the skin conductance response and trait anxiety scores. Overall our results demonstrate that oxytocin increases ratings of self- and other embarrassment and that this is associated with reduced physiological arousal and activity in neural circuits involved in emotional arousal. The neural effects of oxytocin were more pronounced stronger in individuals with high trait anxiety suggesting that it may particularly reduce their anxiety in embarrassing situations.
Project description:Heightened responding to uncertain threat is considered a hallmark of anxiety disorder pathology. We sought to determine whether individual differences in self-reported intolerance of uncertainty (IU), a key transdiagnostic dimension in anxiety-related pathology, underlies differential recruitment of neural circuitry during cue-signalled uncertainty of threat (n = 42). In an instructed threat of shock task, cues signalled uncertain threat of shock (50%) or certain safety from shock. Ratings of arousal and valence, skin conductance response (SCR), and functional magnetic resonance imaging were acquired. Overall, participants displayed greater ratings of arousal and negative valence, SCR, and amygdala activation to uncertain threat versus safe cues. IU was not associated with greater arousal ratings, SCR, or amygdala activation to uncertain threat versus safe cues. However, we found that high IU was associated with greater ratings of negative valence and greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and dorsomedial rostral prefrontal cortex to uncertain threat versus safe cues. These findings suggest that during cue-signalled uncertainty of threat, individuals high in IU rate uncertain threat as aversive and engage prefrontal cortical regions known to be involved in safety-signalling and conscious threat appraisal. Taken together, these findings highlight the potential of IU in modulating safety-signalling and conscious appraisal mechanisms in situations with cue-signalled uncertainty of threat, which may be relevant to models of anxiety-related pathology.
Project description:While being in the center of attention and exposed to other's evaluations humans are prone to experience embarrassment. To characterize the neural underpinnings of such aversive moments, we induced genuine experiences of embarrassment during person-group interactions in a functional neuroimaging study. Using a mock-up scenario with three confederates, we examined how the presence of an audience affected physiological and neural responses and the reported emotional experiences of failures and achievements. The results indicated that publicity induced activations in mentalizing areas and failures led to activations in arousal processing systems. Mentalizing activity as well as attention towards the audience were increased in socially anxious participants. The converging integration of information from mentalizing areas and arousal processing systems within the ventral anterior insula and amygdala forms the neural pathways of embarrassment. Targeting these neural markers of embarrassment in the (para-)limbic system provides new perspectives for developing treatment strategies for social anxiety disorders.
Project description:Accumulating evidence suggests that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) can enhance empathy although it is unclear which specific behavioral and neural aspects are influenced, and whether the effects are modulated by culture, sex, and trait autism. Based on previous findings in Caucasian men, we hypothesized that a single intranasal dose of OXT would specifically enhance emotional empathy (EE) via modulatory effects on the amygdala in an Asian (Chinese) population and explored the modulatory role of sex and trait autism on the effects. We first conducted a double-blind, randomized between-subject design experiment using a modified version of the multifaceted empathy task to determine whether OXT's facilitation of EE can be replicated in Chinese men (<i>n</i> = 60). To further explore neural mechanisms behind and potential sex differences, functional MRI and skin conductance measures were acquired in an independent experiment incorporating men and women (<i>n</i> = 72). OXT enhanced EE across experiments and sex, an effect that was accompanied by reduced amygdala activity and increased skin conductance responses. On the network level OXT enhanced functional coupling of the right amygdala with the insula and posterior cingulate cortex for positive valence stimuli but attenuated coupling for negative valence stimuli. The effect of OXT on amygdala functional connectivity with the insula was modulated by trait autism. Overall, our findings provide further support for the role of OXT in facilitating EE and demonstrate that effects are independent of culture and sex and involve modulatory effects on the amygdala and its interactions with other key empathy regions.
Project description:Recent research indicates that the neuropeptide oxytocin and the gene for the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) have been implicated in the modulation of various social behaviors, including those related to empathy and sensitivity to others. In this study, we examine the hypothesis that genetic variation in OXTR is associated with autonomic reactions when perceiving others in distress. We also explore the possibility that individual disposition in empathic concern would differ by OXTR genotype. To address these questions, 51 male participants (18-35 years of age), genotyped for OXTR rs53576, viewed a social interaction containing high levels of individual distress and apparent physical pain. Electrodermal activity, a measure of sympathetic nervous system activity, was collected during the presentation of the stimuli. Participants also completed a self-report dispositional measure of empathy prior to starting the study and provided ratings of arousal while viewing the stimuli. OXTR variant rs53576 GG individuals showed increased levels of sympathetic and subjective arousal in response to the stimuli compared to A allele carriers. GG homozygotes also expressed greater levels of empathic concern. These findings support the importance of the oxytocin receptor variation in emotional and physiological reactions to the affective experiences of other conspecifics.
Project description:Social-anxiety disorder involves a fear of embarrassing oneself in the presence of others. Taijin-kyofusho (TKS), a subtype common in East Asia, additionally includes a fear of embarrassing others. TKS individuals are hypersensitive to others' feelings and worry that their physical or behavioral defects humiliate others. To explore the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms, we compared TKS ratings with questionnaire-based empathic disposition, cognitive flexibility (set-shifting), and empathy-associated brain activity in 23 Japanese adults. During 3-tesla functional MRI, subjects watched video clips of badly singing people who expressed either authentic embarrassment (EMBAR) or hubristic pride (PRIDE). We expected the EMBAR singers to embarrass the viewers via emotion-sharing involving affective empathy (affEMP), and the PRIDE singers to embarrass via perspective-taking involving cognitive empathy (cogEMP). During affEMP (EMBAR > PRIDE), TKS scores correlated positively with dispositional affEMP (personal-distress dimension) and with amygdala activity. During cogEMP (EMBAR < PRIDE), TKS scores correlated negatively with cognitive flexibility and with activity of the posterior superior temporal sulcus/temporoparietal junction (pSTS/TPJ). Intersubject correlation analysis implied stronger involvement of the anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and premotor cortex during affEMP than cogEMP and stronger involvement of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and pSTS/TPJ during cogEMP than affEMP. During cogEMP, the whole-brain functional connectivity was weaker the higher the TKS scores. The observed imbalance between affEMP and cogEMP, and the disruption of functional brain connectivity, likely deteriorate cognitive processing during embarrassing situations in persons who suffer from other-oriented social anxiety dominated by empathic embarrassment.
Project description:Temporal lobe epilepsy with amygdala enlargement (TLE-AE) is increasingly recognized as a distinct adult electroclinical syndrome. However, functional consequences of morphological alterations of the amygdala in TLE-AE are poorly understood. Here, two emotional stimulation designs were employed to investigate subjective emotional rating and skin conductance responses in a sample of treatment-naïve patients with suspected or confirmed autoimmune TLE-AE (n?=?12) in comparison to a healthy control group (n?=?16). A subgroup of patients completed follow-up measurements after treatment. As compared to healthy controls, patients with suspected or confirmed autoimmune TLE-AE showed markedly attenuated skin conductance responses and arousal ratings, especially pronounced for anxiety-inducing stimuli. The degree of right amygdala enlargement was significantly correlated with the degree of autonomic arousal attenuation. Furthermore, a decline of amygdala enlargement following prompt aggressive immunotherapy in one patient suffering from severe confirmed autoimmune TLE-AE with a very recent clinical onset was accompanied by a significant improvement of autonomic responses. Findings suggest dual impairments of autonomic and cognitive discrimination of stimulus arousal as hallmarks of emotional processing in TLE-AE. Emotional responses might, at least partially, recover after successful treatment, as implied by first single case data.
Project description:The neuropeptide oxytocin has recently been shown to modulate covert attention shifts to emotional face cues and to improve discrimination of masked facial emotions. These results suggest that oxytocin modulates facial emotion processing at early perceptual stages prior to full evaluation of the emotional expression. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine whether oxytocin alters neural responses to backwardly masked angry and happy faces while controlling for attention to the eye vs the mouth region. Intranasal oxytocin administration reduced amygdala reactivity to masked emotions when attending to salient facial features, ie, the eyes of angry faces and the mouth of happy faces. In addition, oxytocin decreased neural responses within the fusiform gyrus and brain stem areas, as well as functional coupling between the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus specifically for threat cues from the eyes. Effects of oxytocin on brain activity were not attributable to differences in behavioral performance, as oxytocin had no impact on mere emotion detection. Our results suggest that oxytocin attenuates neural correlates of early arousal by threat signals from the eye region. As reduced threat sensitivity may increase the likelihood of engaging in social interactions, our findings may have important implications for clinical states of social anxiety.
Project description:The effects of intranasal oxytocin, a neuropeptide involved in prosocial behavior and modulation of neural networks underlying social cognition and emotion regulation, have been studied in schizophrenia. We tested the hypothesis that twice-daily intranasal oxytocin administered for 12-weeks would improve tertiary and exploratory outcomes of self-reported social symptoms, empathy and introspective accuracy from the Jarskog et al. (2017) randomized controlled trial. Sixty-eight stable outpatients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were randomized to receive oxytocin (24?IU twice daily) or placebo. Introspective accuracy was assessed with the Specific Level of Functioning Scale and the Interpersonal Perception Task. Empathy was assessed with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), and social symptoms were assessed with the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale and the Green et al. Paranoid Thoughts Scales. Outcomes were assessed at baseline, six, and twelve weeks. Results demonstrated limited effect of oxytocin with some improvement on the IRI Perspective-Taking Subscale. No additional between-group differences emerged on self-reported symptoms, empathy, or introspective accuracy.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Cognitive reappraisal is a strategy for emotional regulation, important in the context of anxiety disorders. It is not known whether anxiolytic effects of benzodiazepines affect cognitive reappraisal.<h4>Aims</h4>We aimed to investigate the effect of 25 mg oxazepam on cognitive reappraisal.<h4>Methods</h4>In a preliminary investigation, 33 healthy male volunteers were randomised to oxazepam or placebo, and then underwent an experiment where they were asked to use cognitive reappraisal to upregulate or downregulate their emotional response to images with negative or neutral emotional valence. We recorded unpleasantness ratings, skin conductance, superciliary corrugator muscle activity, and heart rate. Participants completed rating scales measuring empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index, IRI), anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, STAI), alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20, TAS-20), and psychopathy (Psychopathy Personality Inventory-Revised, PPI-R).<h4>Results</h4>Upregulation to negative-valence images in the cognitive reappraisal task caused increased unpleasantness ratings, corrugator activity, and heart rate compared to downregulation. Upregulation to both negative- and neutral-valence images caused increased skin conductance responses. Oxazepam caused lower unpleasantness ratings to negative-valence stimuli, but did not interact with reappraisal instruction on any outcome. Self-rated trait empathy was associated with stronger responses to negative-valence stimuli, whereas self-rated psychopathic traits were associated with weaker responses to negative-valence stimuli.<h4>Conclusions</h4>While 25 mg oxazepam caused lower unpleasantness ratings in response to negative-valence images, we did not observe an effect of 25 mg oxazepam on cognitive reappraisal.
Project description:Empathy is fundamental to human relations, but its neural substrates remain largely unknown. Here we characterize the involvement of oxytocin in the capacity of mice to display emotional state-matching, an empathy-like behavior. When exposed to a familiar conspecific demonstrator in distress, an observer mouse becomes fearful, as indicated by a tendency to freeze and subsequent efforts to escape. Both intranasal oxytocin administration and chemogenetic stimulation of oxytocin neurons render males sensitive to the distress of an unfamiliar mouse. Acute intranasal oxytocin penetrates the brain and enhances cellular activity within the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas chronic administration produces long-term facilitation of observational fear and downregulates oxytocin receptor expression in the amygdala. None of these manipulations affect fear acquired as a result of direct experience with the stressor. Hence, these results implicate oxytocin in observational fear in mice (rather than fear itself) and provide new avenues for examining the neural substrates of empathy.