Fox E, Ridgewell A, Ashwin C. Looking on the bright side: biased attention and the human serotonin transporter gene. Proc Biol Sci 276: 1747-1751

Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.05). 06/2009; 276(1663):1747-51. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1788
Source: PubMed


Humans differ in terms of biased attention for emotional stimuli and these biases can confer differential resilience and vulnerability to emotional disorders. Selective processing of positive emotional information, for example, is associated with enhanced sociability and well-being while a bias for negative material is associated with neuroticism and anxiety. A tendency to selectively avoid negative material might also be associated with mental health and well-being. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying these cognitive phenotypes are currently unknown. Here we show for the first time that allelic variation in the promotor region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) is associated with differential biases for positive and negative affective pictures. Individuals homozygous for the long allele (LL) showed a marked bias to selectively process positive affective material alongside selective avoidance of negative affective material. This potentially protective pattern was absent among individuals carrying the short allele (S or SL). Thus, allelic variation on a common genetic polymorphism was associated with the tendency to selectively process positive or negative information. The current study is important in demonstrating a genotype-related alteration in a well-established processing bias, which is a known risk factor in determining both resilience and vulnerability to emotional disorders.

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Available from: Elaine Fox, Oct 04, 2015
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    • "Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter that is responsible for the regulation of social behavior in vertebrates, including humans (Fox et al. 2009; Raleigh et al. 1991; Winberg et al. 1993). For example, in humans, serotonin is associated with vulnerability to mood disorders (Fox et al. 2009), as it is known to play an important role in depression and anxiety (Lesch and Mössner 1998). Recent studies have shown that lowering serotonin levels in humans increases reactions to unfairness (Crockett et al. 2008) and reduces cooperative play during an Iterated Prisoners Dilemma game (Wood et al. 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Cleaning behavior is known as a classic example of cooperation between unrelated individuals. Although much is known of the behavioral processes underlying cooperative behavior, the physiological pathways mediating cooperation remain relatively obscure. Here, we show that altering the activity of serotonin on wild cleaner wrasses Labroides dimidiatus has causal effects on both social and cooperative activities. These cleaners cooperate by removing ectoparasites from visiting “client” reef fishes but prefer to eat client mucus, which constitutes “cheating.” We found that enhancing serotonin made cleaner wrasses more motivated to engage in cleaning behavior and more likely to provide physical contact to clients (tactile stimulation) without spending more time cleaning or cheating more often. Blocking serotonin-mediated response resulted in an apparent decrease in cleaners’ cheating levels and in an increase in cleaners’ aggressiveness toward smaller conspecifics. Our results provide first evidence that serotonin is a neuromodulatory driver of cooperative behavioral activities and contribute to the understanding of neural pathways of cooperation.
    Behavioral Ecology 03/2015; 26(4). DOI:10.1093/beheco/arv039 · 3.18 Impact Factor
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    • "Notably, LL homozygotes also show reduced negative cognitive bias, with a tendency to avoid aversive stimuli and selectively attend to positive stimuli (Fox et al. 2009). This is important because negatively biased information processing is a core feature of affective disorders (Mathews & MacLeod 2005), and it suggests that the reduced negative bias may act as a protective cognitive mechanism (Fox et al. 2009; Pergamin-Hight et al. 2012). While human studies have dominated efforts to relate 5-HTT expression to emotional information processing, animal models allow us to investigate neurobiological questions and exert experimental control in a way that is impossible in humans. "
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    ABSTRACT: The long allele variant of the serotonin transporter (SERT, 5-HTT) gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) is associated with higher levels of 5-HTT expression and reduced risk of developing affective disorders. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying this protective effect. One hypothesis is that 5-HTT expression influences aversive information processing, with reduced negative cognitive bias present in those with higher 5-HTT expression. Here we investigated this hypothesis using genetically-modified mice and a novel aversive learning paradigm. Mice with high levels of 5-HTT expression (5-HTT over-expressing, 5-HTTOE mice) and wild-type mice were trained to discriminate between three distinct auditory cues: one cue predicted footshock on all trials (CS+); a second cue predicted the absence of footshock (CS-); and a third cue predicted footshock on 20% of trials (CS20%), and was therefore ambiguous. Wild-type mice exhibited equivalently high levels of fear to the CS+ and CS20% and minimal fear to the CS-. In contrast, 5-HTTOE mice exhibited high levels of fear to the CS+ but minimal fear to the CS- and the CS20%. This selective reduction in fear to ambiguous aversive cues suggests that increased 5-HTT expression reduces negative cognitive bias for stimuli with uncertain outcomes. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Genes Brain and Behavior 03/2015; 14(4). DOI:10.1111/gbb.12215 · 3.66 Impact Factor
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    • "For example, carriers of the s-allele, compared with the l-allele, of 5-HTTLPR showed elevated hemodynamic response to fearful expressions during fMRI scans (Hariri et al., 2002), which was associated with reduced coupling between the amygdala and the subgenual cingulate gyrus (Pezawas et al., 2005). Interestingly, an attentional bias toward happy facial expressions was associated with carrying of the “l” allele (Pérez-Edgar et al., 2010), thus possibly implicating this genetic variable as a potential protective factor against stressful life events (Fox et al., 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: The aim of the proposed theoretical model is to illuminate personal and interpersonal resilience by drawing from the field of emotional face perception. We suggest that perception/recognition of emotional facial expressions serves as a central link between subjective, self-related processes and the social context. Emotional face perception constitutes a salient social cue underlying interpersonal communication and behavior. Because problems in communication and interpersonal behavior underlie most, if not all, forms of psychopathology, it follows that perception/recognition of emotional facial expressions impacts psychopathology. The ability to accurately interpret one's facial expression is crucial in subsequently deciding on an appropriate course of action. However, perception in general, and of emotional facial expressions in particular, is highly influenced by individuals' personality and the self-concept. Herein we briefly outline well-established theories of personal and interpersonal resilience and link them to the neuro-cognitive basis of face perception. We then describe the findings of our ongoing program of research linking two well-established resilience factors, general self-efficacy (GSE) and perceived social support (PSS), with face perception. We conclude by pointing out avenues for future research focusing on possible genetic markers and patterns of brain connectivity associated with the proposed model. Implications of our integrative model to psychotherapy are discussed.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 08/2014; 8:602. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00602 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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