The neural basis of conceptual–emotional integration and its role in major depressive disorder

a Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit, School of Psychological Sciences , The University of Manchester & Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre , Manchester , UK.
Social neuroscience (Impact Factor: 2.66). 07/2013; 8(5). DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2013.810171
Source: PubMed


The importance of differentiating between social concepts when appraising actions (e.g., understanding behavior as critical vs. fault-finding) and its contribution to vulnerability to major depressive disorder (MDD) is unknown. We predicted poor integration of differentiated conceptual knowledge when people with MDD appraise their social actions, contributing to their tendency to grossly overgeneralize self-blame (e.g., "I am unlikable rather than critical"). To test this hypothesis, we used a neuropsychological test measuring social conceptual differentiation and its relationship with emotional biases in a remitted MDD and a control group. During fMRI, guilt- and indignation-evoking sentences were presented. As predicted, conceptual overgeneralization was associated with increased emotional intensity when appraising social actions. Interdependence of conceptual overgeneralization and negative emotional biases was stronger in MDD (reproducible in the subgroup without medication) and was associated with overgeneralized self-blame. This high conceptual-emotional interdependence was associated with functional disconnection between the right superior anterior temporal lobe (ATL) and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) as well as a septal region across groups when experiencing guilt (SPM8). Strong coupling of conceptual information (ATL) with information about the context of actions and emotions (frontal-subcortical regions) is thus associated with appraisal being less dependent on conceptual overgeneralization, thereby protecting against excessive self-blame.

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    • "We further demonstrated that this ATL functional disconnection selectively occurred when patients experienced guilt relative to indignation towards others during the fMRI scan. This neural signature accounted for the wellknown tendency of overgeneralizing self-blame and guilt in MD (Green et al., 2013). This group-level standard analysis, however, is unable to answer the clinical question of whether this particular fMRI signature has the potential to serve as a biomarker to detect vulnerability in the individual. "
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