Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Published by Oxford University Press

Online ISSN: 1749-5024


Print ISSN: 1749-5016


Fig. 1 ( A ) Eye tracking indicates that saccades toward the eye region are less frequent in the ASD group for neutral faces. ( B ) Within the ASD group, greater perceived threat ratings for neutral faces were associated with fewer eye movements directed toward the eye region for neutral faces; residuals plotted controlling for age and sex. TD, typically developing; ASD, autism spectrum disorder; **between-group difference, P < 0.01. 
Table 1 Participants who provided usable behavioral, eye-tracking and fMRI data
Fig. 2 Face labeling errors associated with threat endorsement. ( A ) Accuracy was significantly lower in the ASD group when labeling neutral faces. ( B ) The ASD group was more likely to mistakenly label neutral as a negative emotion. ( C ) Higher ratings of threat for neutral faces were associated with a tendency to mislabel neutral faces as a negative expression, with TD represented with open circles and ASD represented with filled circles. Residuals plotted, controlling for group and age group. TD, typically developing; ASD, autism spectrum disorder; ***between-group difference, P < 0.005. 
Table 2 Hierarchical regression: amygdala activity to neutral faces mediates association between group and rate of mistaking neutral faces with a negatively valenced expression
Fig. 3 Natural viewing condition. ( A ) Illustration of condition. During an essentially passive viewing task, participants were instructed to provide a single button press for each trial. They were instructed to alternate the finger used on each trial (either index or middle finger). ( B ) Individuals in the ASD group showed elevated amygdala activity (Faces > baseline) compared with the TD group. TD, typically developing; ASD, autism spectrum disorder; *between-group difference, P < 0.025. 


Elevated amygdala response to faces and gaze aversion in autism spectrum disorder. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(1), 106-117
  • Article
  • Full-text available

April 2013


271 Reads






Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are often associated with impairments in judgment of facial expressions. This impairment is often accompanied by diminished eye contact and atypical amygdala responses to face stimuli. The current study used a within-subjects design to examine the effects of natural viewing and an experimental eye-gaze manipulation on amygdala responses to faces. Individuals with ASD showed less gaze toward the eye region of faces relative to a control group. Among individuals with ASD, reduced eye gaze was associated with higher threat ratings of neutral faces. Amygdala signal was elevated in the ASD group relative to controls. This elevated response was further potentiated by experimentally manipulating gaze to the eye region. Potentiation by the gaze manipulation was largest for those individuals who exhibited the least amount of naturally occurring gaze toward the eye region and was associated with their subjective threat ratings. Effects were largest for neutral faces, highlighting the importance of examining neutral faces in the pathophysiology of autism and questioning their use as control stimuli with this population. Overall, our findings provide support for the notion that gaze direction modulates affective response to faces in ASD.

Fig. 1 ( A – C ) Location of positive correlation between gray matter density change in right amygdala and change in PSS score. Identified cluster overlaid on group-averaged sagittal (A) ( x 1⁄4 32) and coronal (B) ( y 1⁄4 0) structural image. (C) The coronal glass brain image illustrates that no other brain regions were correlated even at a liberal statistical threshold of uncorrected P < 0.01. (D) Average percent change (post-intervention minus pre-intervention) in gray matter density within the identified cluster extracted from each individual plotted against change in PSS scores. For illustrative purposes, voxel values within the identified cluster in the right amygdala were extracted and averaged using Marsbar (Brett et al ., 2002), and values on the x -axis were reversed. 
Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale. Social Cognitive Affect Neuroscience, 5, 11-17

September 2009


685 Reads

Stress has significant adverse effects on health and is a risk factor for many illnesses. Neurobiological studies have implicated the amygdala as a brain structure crucial in stress responses. Whereas hyperactive amygdala function is often observed during stress conditions, cross-sectional reports of differences in gray matter structure have been less consistent. We conducted a longitudinal MRI study to investigate the relationship between changes in perceived stress with changes in amygdala gray matter density following a stress-reduction intervention. Stressed but otherwise healthy individuals (N = 26) participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention. Perceived stress was rated on the perceived stress scale (PSS) and anatomical MR images were acquired pre- and post-intervention. PSS change was used as the predictive regressor for changes in gray matter density within the bilateral amygdalae. Following the intervention, participants reported significantly reduced perceived stress. Reductions in perceived stress correlated positively with decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density. Whereas prior studies found gray matter modifications resulting from acquisition of abstract information, motor and language skills, this study demonstrates that neuroplastic changes are associated with improvements in a psychological state variable.

Fig. 1 The theoretical framework proposed here is designed to understand how culture and the brain might influence one another in dynamic fashion. The key idea is that the influence of culture on brain activities is mediated by repeated long-term engagement in a select set of cultural tasks (scripted behaviors designed to accomplish the primary cultural values such as independence and interdependence). Behavioral responses produced by the culturally patterned neural activities facilitate cultural and biological adaptation by enabling the person to seamlessly perform the cultural tasks of his or her own choosing. Each stage involved in the core process of the culture-mind interaction (depicted on the left) is influenced by a set of factors described on the right. 
Cultural neuroscience of the self: Understanding the social grounding of the brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 111-129
Cultural neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field of research that investigates interrelations among culture, mind and the brain. Drawing on both the growing body of scientific evidence on cultural variation in psychological processes and the recent development of social and cognitive neuroscience, this emerging field of research aspires to understand how culture as an amalgam of values, meanings, conventions, and artifacts that constitute daily social realities might interact with the mind and its underlying brain pathways of each individual member of the culture. In this article, following a brief review of studies that demonstrate the surprising degree to which brain processes are malleably shaped by cultural tools and practices, the authors discuss cultural variation in brain processes involved in self-representations, cognition, emotion and motivation. They then propose (i) that primary values of culture such as independence and interdependence are reflected in the compositions of cultural tasks (i.e. daily routines designed to accomplish the cultural values) and further (ii) that active and sustained engagement in these tasks yields culturally patterned neural activities of the brain, thereby laying the ground for the embodied construction of the self and identity. Implications for research on culture and the brain are discussed. © The Author (2010). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email: [email protected] /* */

No global processing deficit in the Navon task in 14 developmental prosopagnosics

July 2007


1,566 Reads

Faces are represented in a more configural or holistic manner than other objects. Substantial evidence indicates that this representation results from face-specific mechanisms, but some have argued that it is produced by configural mechanisms that can be applied to many objects including words. The face-specific hypothesis predicts that non-face configural processes will often be normal in prosopagnosic subjects, whereas the domain-general configural hypothesis predicts they will be deficient on all configural tasks. Although the weight of the evidence favors the face-specific hypothesis, a recent study reopened this issue when it was found that three out of five developmental prosopagnosics showed a larger local processing bias than controls in a global-local task (i.e. a Navon task). To examine this issue more thoroughly we tested a significantly larger sample of prosopagnosics (14 participants) who had severe face memory and face perception deficits. In contrast to the previous report, the developmental prosopagnosics performed normally in the global-local task. Like controls, they showed a typical global advantage and typical global-to-local consistency effects. The results demonstrate that the configural processing required by the Navon task is dissociable from face configural processing.

Fig. 2 Sensor space statistical parametric maps. Figure 2A shows the statistical parametric map for the interaction between hand and body position in sensor space having averaged first across frequency (7–12 Hz) and then time (2–3 s). The colour-scale depicts the t-value. Figure 2B and C shows the parameter estimates from the peak voxel from the cluster at left parietal sensors (B) and right parietal sensors (C) collapsed across the factor goal for the conditions, right arm facing towards the subject, left arm facing towards the subject, right arm facing away from the subject and left arm facing away from the subject. The error bars show the pooled error term.  
Modulation of the mirror system by social relevance. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 1:143-148

February 2006


86 Reads

When we observe the actions of others, certain areas of the brain are activated in a similar manner as to when we perform the same actions ourselves. This ‘mirror system’ includes areas in the ventral premotor cortex and the inferior parietal lobule. Experimental studies suggest that action observation automatically elicits activity in the observer, which precisely mirrors the activity observed. In this case we would expect this activity to be independent of observer's viewpoint. Here we use whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record cortical activity of human subjects whilst they watched a series of videos of an actor making a movement recorded from different viewpoints. We show that one cortical response to action observation (oscillatory activity in the 7–12 Hz frequency range) is modulated by the relationship between the observer and the actor. We suggest that this modulation reflects a mechanism that filters information into the ‘mirror system’, allowing only socially relevant information to pass.

Fig. 1 Composite (sites CZ, CPZ, and PZ) ERP waveforms to appetitive and neutral pictures split as a function of trait BAS (e.g., low, moderate, and high BAS total). Circles indicate N1 peaks.
Trait behavioral approach sensitivity (BAS) relates to early (>150 ms) electrocortical responses to appetitive stimuli

June 2012


46 Reads

Much past research has focused on how traits related to the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and avoidance motivation influence the almost obligatory attentional processing of aversive stimuli as measured as early as 100 ms into stimulus processing. These results fit with the functional importance assigned to the negativity bias. But do traits related to the behavioral approach system (BAS) influence attentional processing with similar rapidity? The present study addressed this unanswered question by testing whether trait BAS relates to event-related potentials (ERP) involved in rapid motivated attentional processing to appetitive stimuli. Results indicated that individual differences in BAS were correlated with larger ERP amplitudes as early as 100 ms into the processing of appetitive pictures. These results provide the first evidence linking trait approach motivational tendencies to very early stages of motivated attentional processing.

Interoception, emotion and brain: New insights link internal physiology to social behaviour. Commentary on: “Anterior insular cortex mediates bodily sensibility and social anxiety” by Terasawa et al. (2012)

March 2013


702 Reads

In this issue, Terasawa and colleagues used functional neuroimaging to test for common neural substrates supporting conscious appraisal of subjective bodily and emotional states and explored how the relationship might account for personality and experience of anxiety symptoms. Their study highlights a role for the same region of anterior insula cortex in appraisal of emotions and bodily physiology. The reactivity of this region also mediated the relationship between ‘bodily sensibility’ and social fear, translating a cognitive representation of subjective physical state into an individual personality trait that influences social interaction. The task used by Terasawa and colleagues taps into conscious aspects to the expression of this dynamic. These findings add to increasing evidence for the role of anterior insula as the interface between physiologically driven internal motivational states, emotional awareness and interpersonal behaviour.

Fig. 1 PCC functional connectivity in 22q11DS patients and healthy controls. Top panel (1 a) depicts within-group functional connectivity. Red colors indicate regions of significant functional connectivity to the PCC in patients with 22q11DS, while blue colors indicate regions of significant functional connectivity to the PCC in healthy controls and purple indicates areas of overlap across groups. As seen here, both healthy controls and 22q11DS patients exhibit functional connectivity to areas classically considered part of the DMN, though the strength of the DMN network in 22q11DS patients, especially along long-distance connections, appears less robust. The bottom panel (1 b) depicts significant group differences in PCC connectivity between 22q11DS patients vs controls. As depicted here, controls showed significantly stronger functional connectivity between the PCC and other DMN regions, including the precuneus, the left and right precentral gyrus, the left frontal pole and left lateral occipito-parietal regions. In contrast, 22q11DS patients displayed a more diffuse pattern of functional connectivity with the PCC, involving significantly stronger correlations between the PCC and right inferior frontal gyrus. 
Fig. 2 Developmental effects on PCC connectivity. Figure 2a depicts brain regions in which greater functional connectivity with the PCC is associated with increasing age in 22q11DS patients [red—right (R) vmPFC, left (L) frontal cortex] and controls [blue—paracingulate gyrus, anterior cingulate gyrus (ACC), R superior frontal gryus, L putamen, R lateral temporal cortex, R lateral parietal lobe, R cerebellum]. Figure 2b depicts regions in which there is a significant age  diagnosis interaction [i.e. differential PCC connectivity with increasing age for 22q11DS patients (22q11DS) vs controls (Cont)]. Red colors indicate regions in which there is differentially increased connectivity in 22q11DS patients (R vmPFC, Subcallosal cortex, R orbitofrontal cortex), whereas blue colors indicate differentially increased PCC functional connectivity with increasing age in controls (Cont—occipital pole, R lateral temporal cortex). 
Table 2 Significant Cluster Locations from Group Analyses 
Default Mode Network Connectivity and Reciprocal Social Behavior in 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome.

August 2013


85 Reads

22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome (22q11DS) is a genetic mutation associated with disorders of cortical connectivity and social dysfunction. However, little is known about the functional connectivity (FC) of the resting brain in 22q11DS and its relationship with social behavior. A seed-based-analysis of resting-state functional MRI data was used to investigate FC associated with the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), in [26] youth with 22qDS and [51] demographically-matched controls. Subsequently, the relationship between PCC-connectivity and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) scores was examined in 22q11DS participants.RESULTS: Relative to 22q11DS participants, controls showed significantly stronger FC between the PCC and other default mode network (DMN) nodes, including the precuneus, precentral gyrus, and left frontal pole. 22q11DS patients did not show age-associated FC changes observed in typically-developing controls. Increased connectivity between PCC, medial prefrontal regions, and the anterior cingulate cortex, was associated with lower SRS scores (i.e., improved social competence) in 22q11DS.CONCLUSIONS: DMN integrity may play a key role in social information-processing. We observed disrupted DMN connectivity in 22q11DS, paralleling reports from idiopathic autism and schizophrenia. Increased strength of long-range DMN connectivity was associated with improved social functioning in 22q11DS. These findings support a "developmental-disconnection" hypothesis of symptom development in this disorder.

Fig. 1 Example stimuli for each of three trial types. According to the rule for that trial block, participants pressed a button corresponding to one of the numbered lines to identify a particular type of relationship (e.g. for the ‘category’ trial, participants should press ‘1’ to indicate that ‘bowl’ and ‘plate’ share a categorical relationship). Trials were presented in blocks of eight trials from a single condition, and each stimulus contained a centrally presented letter (M for match, C for category, or R for relationship) as reminder of the response rule for that block. 
Table 1 Comparison of strategy-based (category and relationship) vs control (match) tasks: commonalities and differences across cultural groups
Fig. 2 Similarity of semantic processing across cultures and tasks. The top and middle panels illustrate the overlap between East Asians’ activations (displayed in red) and Americans’ activations (displayed in blue) for both category-match and relationship-match contrasts. In addition, note the similarity in the regions engaged by both tasks. Each image is thresholded at p < 0.005 and images are displayed at y 1⁄4 þ 26 (top row) and À 52 (second row). The bottom panel displays the activations across both groups for both strategic judgments [(category þ relationship) À match], with more extensive activation in the left hemisphere than in the right. Images are overlaid on a single-subject canonical anatomical image. 
Table 2 Cultural differences in category and relational tasks, relative to the control task
Fig. 3 Cultural influences on category and relationship judgments. Differences between East Asians and Americans on either the category or relationship task relative to the control match task are depicted for angular gyrus (36, À 70, 56), middle frontal gyrus (40, 60, 10), and cingulate gyrus (12, 10, 46). Note that many of the cultural differences extend to both semantic tasks (category and relationship), although are highlighted for the peak for a single condition in the figure. 
Neural differences in the processing of semantic relationships across cultures. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 254-263

February 2010


160 Reads

The current study employed functional MRI to investigate the contribution of domain-general (e.g. executive functions) and domain-specific (e.g. semantic knowledge) processes to differences in semantic judgments across cultures. Previous behavioral experiments have identified cross-cultural differences in categorization, with East Asians preferring strategies involving thematic or functional relationships (e.g. cow-grass) and Americans preferring categorical relationships (e.g. cow-chicken). East Asians and American participants underwent functional imaging while alternating between categorical or thematic strategies to sort triads of words, as well as matching words on control trials. Many similarities were observed. However, across both category and relationship trials compared to match (control) trials, East Asians activated a frontal-parietal network implicated in controlled executive processes, whereas Americans engaged regions of the temporal lobes and the cingulate, possibly in response to conflict in the semantic content of information. The results suggest that cultures differ in the strategies employed to resolve conflict between competing semantic judgments. © The Author (2010). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email: [email protected] /* */

Fig. 1 Scatter plots of the unadjusted association between hippocampal volume and BIS ( A ), BAS-RR ( B ), BAS-FS ( C ) and BAS-D ( D ). 
Table 1 Demographic characteristics and brain measures of the study sample
Table 2 Correlations between BIS and BAS measures
Cherbuin N, Windsor TD, Anstey KJ, Maller JJ, Meslin C, Sachdev PS. Hippocampal volume is positively associated with behavioural inhibition (BIS) in a large community-based sample of mid-life adults: the PATH through life study. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 3: 262-269

October 2008


214 Reads

The fields of personality research and neuropsychology have developed with very little overlap. Gray and McNaughton were among the first to recognize that personality traits must have neurobiological correlates and developed models relating personality factors to brain structures. Of particular note was their description of associations between conditioning, inhibition and activation of behaviours, and specific neural structures such as the hippocampus, amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The aim of this study was to determine whether personality constructs representing the behavioural inhibition and activation systems (BIS/BAS) were associated with volumetric measures of the hippocampus and amygdala in humans. Amygdalar and hippocampal volumes were measured in 430 brain scans of cognitively intact community-based volunteers. Linear associations between brain volumes and the BIS/BAS measures were assessed using multiple regression, controlling for age, sex, education, intra-cranial and total brain volume. Results showed that hippocampal volumes were positively associated with BIS sensitivity and to a lesser extent with BAS sensitivity. No association was found between amygdalar volume and either the BIS or BAS. These findings add support to the model of Gray and McNaughton, which proposes a role of the hippocampus in the regulation of defensive/approach behaviours and trait anxiety but suggest an absence of associations between amygdala volume and BIS/BAS measures.

Fig. 1 Levels of autism traits in men with XXY and men from the general population as measured with the AQ. Scores in all individual dimensions were significantly higher in men with XXY.
with significant activation associated with trustworthiness judgments of faces in controls as indicated by a whole-brain analysis
Neural systems for social cognition in Klinefelter syndrome (47, XXY): evidence from FMRI

July 2011


215 Reads

Klinefelter syndrome (KS) is a chromosomal condition (47, XXY) that may help us to unravel gene-brain behavior pathways to psychopathology. The phenotype includes social cognitive impairments and increased risk for autism traits. We used functional MRI to study neural mechanisms underlying social information processing. Eighteen nonclinical controls and thirteen men with XXY were scanned during judgments of faces with regard to trustworthiness and age. While judging faces as untrustworthy in comparison to trustworthy, men with XXY displayed less activation than controls in (i) the amygdala, which plays a key role in screening information for socio-emotional significance, (ii) the insula, which plays a role in subjective emotional experience, as well as (iii) the fusiform gyrus and (iv) the superior temporal sulcus, which are both involved in the perceptual processing of faces and which were also less involved during age judgments in men with XXY. This is the first study showing that KS can be associated with reduced involvement of the neural network subserving social cognition. Studying KS may increase our understanding of the genetic and hormonal basis of neural dysfunctions contributing to abnormalities in social cognition and behavior, which are considered core abnormalities in psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Fig. 1 Three-dimensional model of the segmented hippocampus (yellow) and amygdala (blue) using Freesurfer and displayed in Slicer ( 
Table 1 Characteristics of the sample
Table 2 Association between measures of socio-economic position and depression symptoms (PHQ depression score) and cognitive function, report- ing regression b-coefficients and standard errors from a series of regression models controlling for age and sex
volume (in mm 3 and standard error) and regression results (b-coefficient and s.e.) for series of models examining association of hard- ship and childhood poverty with volume of medial-temporal lobe structures, including covariates a
Butterworth P, Cherbuin N, Sachdev P, Anstey KJ. The association between financial hardship and amygdala and hippocampal volumes: results from the PATH through life project. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 7: 548-556

May 2011


240 Reads

This study examined whether middle-aged adults exposed to poverty in childhood or current financial hardship have detectable brain differences from those who have not experienced such adversity. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was conducted as one aspect of the Personality and Total Health (PATH) through life study: a large longitudinal community survey measuring the health and well-being of three cohorts from south-eastern Australia. This analysis considers data from 431 middle-aged adults in the aged 44-48 years at the time of the interview. Volumetric segmentation was performed with the Freesurfer image analysis suite. Data on socio-demographic circumstances, mental health and cognitive performance were collected through the survey interview. Results showed that, after controlling for well-established risk factors for atrophy, adults who reported financial hardship had smaller left and right hippocampal and amygdalar volumes than those who did not report hardship. In contrast, there was no reliable association between hardship and intra-cranial volume or between childhood poverty and any of the volumetric measures. Financial hardship may be considered a potent stressor and the observed results are consistent with the view that hardship influences hippocampal and amygdalar volumes through hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and other stress-related pathways.

Fig. 5 HIE provides information on the temporal sequence of activation during perception of emotional faces.
Emotion perception
Isolated motoric expression of emotion
Experience of positive emotional states
Exploring Emotions Using Invasive Methods: Review of 60 Years of Human Intracranial Electrophysiology.

February 2014


147 Reads

Over the past 60 years, human intracranial electrophysiology (HIE) has been used to characterize seizures in patients with epilepsy. Secondary to the clinical objectives, electrodes implanted intracranially have been used to investigate mechanisms of human cognition. In addition to studies of memory and language, HIE methods have been used to investigate emotions. The aim of this review is to outline the contribution of HIE (electrocorticography, single-unit recording, and electrical brain stimulation) to our understanding of the neural representations of emotions. We identified 64 papers dating back to the mid-1950s which used HIE techniques to study emotional states. Evidence from HIE studies supports the existence of widely distributed networks in the neocortex, limbic/paralimbic regions, and subcortical nuclei which contribute to the representation of emotional states. In addition, evidence from HIE supports hemispheric dominance for emotional valence. Furthermore, evidence from HIE supports the existence of overlapping neural areas for emotion perception, experience, and expression. Lastly, HIE provides unique insights into the temporal dynamics of neural activation during perception, experience, and expression of emotional states. In conclusion, we propose that HIE techniques offer important evidence which must be incorporated into our current models of emotion representation in the human brain.

Fig. 1 Emotion recognition fMRI task design. Subjects were instructed to identify fearful, happy and neutral facial expressions, and isoluminant scrambled images, by pressing a corresponding button. Stimuli were randomly ordered in a fixed sequence, with each condition being presented 30 times over the course of two separate scanning sessions. Stimuli duration was 1950 ms, followed by a blank screen of 50 ms. An additional 80 blank images consisting of a black background with a central fixation cross were pseudo-randomly interspersed throughout the entire task. Blank stimuli were 2000 ms in duration, and no more than three blank screens were presented consecutively, resulting in an effective jittered ISI ranging from 50 to 6050 ms, with an average ISI of 2695 ms.
Table 1 Demographics and cognitive assessments
Fig. 2 Behavioral accuracy and response times. (a) Repeated measures ANOVA of behavioral measures demonstrate a significant interaction effect of group and emotion. Post hoc univariate analysis demonstrated that the TS group was less accurate in identifying fearful faces. (b) There were no significant group × emotion interactions for response times.
Fig. 3 Analyses of between-group differences for contrast of happy faces compared with scrambled faces. The TS group demonstrated increased activation in the (a) right anterior fusiform gyrus (P < 0.05 corrected, peak: [57 −10 −27]). Analyses of between-group differences for contrast of fearful faces compared with scrambled faces. The TS group demonstrated decreased activation in the (b) right dorsolateral PFC and (c) right anterior cingulate and bilateral posterior cingulate gyri. Clusters are significant at P < 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons.
Aberrant neurocognitive processing of fear in young girls with Turner syndrome

November 2012


187 Reads

Appraisal of fearful stimuli is an integral aspect of social cognition. Neural circuitry underlying this phenomenon has been well-described, and encompasses a distributed network of affective and cognitive nodes. Interestingly, this ability to process fearful faces is impaired in Turner syndrome (TS), a genetic disorder of females in which all or part of an X chromosome is missing. However, neurofunctional correlates for this impairment have not been well-studied, particularly in young girls. Given that the core features of TS include X chromosome gene haploinsufficiency and secondary sex hormone deficiencies, investigation of fearful face processing may provide insights into the influence of X chromosome gene expression on this network. Therefore, we examined behavioral and neural responses during an explicit emotional face labeling task in 14 prepubertal girls with TS and 16 typically developing age-matched controls (6-13 years). We demonstrate that girls with TS have a specific impairment in the identification of fearful faces, and show decreased activation in several cognitive control regions, including the anterior dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate gyrus. Our results indicate that aberrant functional activation in dorsal cognitive regions play an integral role in appraisal of, and regulation of response to fear in TS.

Figure 1. Average Arousal ratings (3 = highly aroused, 2 = slightly aroused, 1 = not at all aroused) for each emotional condition in individuals with a first-episode of psychosis (FEP), subjects at ultra high risk of psychosis (UHR), and control subjects (HC). * Significant difference between groups at P < 0.05. Error bars represent standard error. 
Figure 2. Results of whole-brain analyses and amygdala region of interest analysis of the main effect of Emotional versus Neutral contrast across the three groups (first-episode psychosis –FEP-, ultra high risk –UHR-, and healthy controls –HC-). Regions are described in Table 2, Panel 2A shows rendered views and 2B shows section views. 
Figure 3 . Main activation clusters ( P < 0.05 FWE) and parameter estimates (mean and standard error) for each emotional condition (emotional > neutral; neutral > fixation) and group in the voxel with max. t-value. Mean parameter estimates are shown for voxel [-40 36 2] in the left inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula, for voxel [18 46 30] in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and voxels [24 -6 -16] and [-22 -6 -12] respectively in the right and left amygdala. Abbreviations as in Figure 1. AMY, amygdala; dmPFC, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. IFG/aINS, inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula; L, left; R, right. 
Figure 4. Scatterplots of (A1) average CAARMS positive symptoms and (A2) average GAF levels of functioning as a function of dmPFC activation in Ultra High Risk (UHR) individuals; (B1) average PANSS positive symptoms as a function of right amygdala activation and (B2) as a function of IFG/aINS activation in First-Episode Psychosis (FEP) patients. AMY, amygdala; dmPFC, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. IFG/aINS, inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula; L, left; R, right. 
Neural Correlates of Aberrant Emotional Salience Predict Psychotic Symptoms and Global Functioning in High-Risk and First-Episode Psychosis.

March 2015


282 Reads

Neurobiological and behavioral findings suggest that psychosis is associated with corticolimbic hyperactivity during the processing of emotional salience. This has not been widely studied in the early stages of psychosis the impact of these abnormalities on psychotic symptoms and global functioning is unknown. We sought to address this issue in 18 patients with first-episode psychosis (FEP), 18 individuals at ultra-high risk of psychosis (UHR), and 22 healthy controls. Corticolimbic response and subjective ratings to emotional and neutral scenes were measured using functional MRI. The clinical and functional impact of corticolimbic abnormalities was assessed with regression analyses. The FEP and UHR groups reported increased subjective emotional arousal to neutral scenes compared with healthy controls. Across groups, emotional versus neutral scenes elicited activation in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula, and amygdala. Although FEP and UHR participants showed reduced activation in these regions when viewing emotional scenes compared with controls, this was driven by increased activation to neutral scenes. Corticolimbic hyperactivity to neutral scenes predicted higher levels of positive symptoms and poorer levels of functioning. These results indicate that disruption of emotional brain systems may represent an important biological substrate for the pathophysiology of early psychosis and UHR states. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:

Neural underpinnings of superior action prediction abilities in soccer players

April 2014


335 Reads

The ability to form anticipatory representations of ongoing actions is crucial for effective interactions in dynamic environments. In sports, elite athletes exhibit greater ability than novices in predicting other players' actions, mainly based on reading their body kinematics. This superior perceptual ability has been associated with a modulation of visual and motor areas by visual and motor expertise. Here, we investigated the causative role of visual and motor action representations in experts' ability to predict the outcome of soccer actions. We asked expert soccer players (outfield players and goalkeepers) and novices to predict the direction of the ball after perceiving the initial phases of penalty kicks that contained or not incongruent body kinematics. During the task we applied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd). Results showed that STS-rTMS disrupted performance in both experts and novices, especially in those with greater visual expertise (i.e., goalkeepers). Conversely, PMd-rTMS impaired performance only in expert players (i.e., outfield players and goalkeepers), who exhibit strong motor expertise into facing domain-specific actions in soccer games. These results provide causative evidence of the complimentary functional role of visual and motor action representations in experts' action prediction.

Fig. 1 Study flow.
Fig. 2 Neural changes associated with ABM training. Whole brain, random-effects analyses indicated three-way interactions (Group  Time  Condition) in the right and left amygdala: [right: (16, À 1, À9), 54 voxels (844 mm 3 ), F(4,112) ¼ 4.3, p < 0.05 corrected; left: (À19, 1, À11), 49 voxels (766 mm 3 ), F(4,112) ¼ 5.4, p < 0.05 corrected]. To decompose this three-way interaction, the percent signal-change values, relative to fixation, across significant voxels in each whole-brain cluster were averaged for each condition for each participant. Post-hoc analysis examined the threat bias contrast (i.e. threat incongruent > congruent).  
Table 2 Parameters from step regression model predicting symptom reduction change using screening measures
Neural changes with Attention Bias Modification (ABM) for anxiety: A randomized trial.

October 2014


195 Reads

Attention bias modification (ABM) procedures typically reduce anxiety symptoms, yet little is known about the neural changes associated with this behavioral treatment. Healthy adults with high social anxiety symptoms (n = 53) were randomized to receive either active or placebo ABM. Unlike placebo ABM, active ABM aimed to train individuals’ attention away from threat. Using the dot-probe task, threat-related attention bias was measured during magnetic resonance imaging before and after acute and extended training over 4 weeks. A subset of participants completed all procedures (n = 30, 15 per group). Group differences in neural activation were identified using standard analyses. Linear regression tested predictive factors of symptom reduction (i.e., training group, baseline indices of threat bias). The active and placebo groups exhibited different patterns of right and left amygdala activation with training. Across all participants irrespective of group, individuals with greater left amygdala activation in the threat-bias contrast prior to training exhibited greater symptom reduction. After accounting for baseline amygdala activation, greater symptom reduction was associated with assignment to the active training group. Greater left amygdala activation at baseline predicted reductions in social anxiety symptoms following ABM. Further research is needed to clarify brain-behavior mechanisms associated with ABM training.

Fig. 1 Brain activation clusters associated with explicit judgment of emotional expressions in the control group. Clusters are superimposed on a 3D anatomical image. (A) and (C), Lateral view; (B), Mid sagittal view; (D), Transverse view; (E), Coronal view. The clusters are colour-coded based on the Emotion-minus-Age t -statistic values (positive values indicate Emotion greater than Age). For graphical reporting significant activation effects are shown thresholded at an uncorrected threshold of P < 0.001. 
Table 1 Characteristics of subjects with high functioning autism (HFA) or Asperger syndrome (ASD) ASD Subjects Age Sex Diagnosis Verbal IQ Non-verbal IQ Total IQ Score ASSQ
Fig. 2 Path diagrams from the causal analysis using structural equation modelling. Values of the path coefficients in the control/autism groups are indicated. Significant differences in these values between groups are shown in red for Control > ASD and in blue for ASD > Control. 
Table 3 Coordinates of clusters of activation when comparing control and ASD populations in the contrast 'emotion' vs 'age' judgement conditions
Table 4 Standardized path coefficients are presented. Levels of significance are Bonferroni corrected
Abnormal cerebral effective connectivity during explicit emotional processing in adults with autism spectrum disorder

July 2008


861 Reads

Several recent studies suggest that autism may result from abnormal communication between brain regions. We directly assessed this hypothesis by testing the presence of abnormalities in a model of the functional cerebral network engaged during explicit emotion processing in adults with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. Comparison of structural equation models revealed abnormal patterns of effective connectivity, with the prefrontal cortex as a key site of dysfunction. These findings provide evidence that abnormal long-range connectivity between structures of the ‘social brain’ could explain the socio-emotional troubles that characterize the autistic pathology.

Looking you in the mouth: abnormal gaze in autism resulting from impaired top-down modulation of visual attention

January 2007


435 Reads

People with autism are impaired in their social behavior, including their eye contact with others, but the processes that underlie this impairment remain elusive. We combined high-resolution eye tracking with computational modeling in a group of 10 high-functioning individuals with autism to address this issue. The group fixated the location of the mouth in facial expressions more than did matched controls, even when the mouth was not shown, even in faces that were inverted and most noticeably at latencies of 200–400 ms. Comparisons with a computational model of visual saliency argue that the abnormal bias for fixating the mouth in autism is not driven by an exaggerated sensitivity to the bottom-up saliency of the features, but rather by an abnormal top-down strategy for allocating visual attention.

Fig. 1 Functional activity in control and autism groups for (A) the MENTAL vs MATH contrast ( P < 0.001, uncorrected) and (B) the REST vs MATH contrast ( P < 0.01, uncorrected); and (C ) the regions of overlap between these two contrasts (minimum cluster volume 1⁄4 1152 mm 3 ). These regions of overlap in the control group were used as ROIs for further analysis (red cluster 1⁄4 vMPFC/vACC; blue cluster 1⁄4 RSC/PCC; green cluster 1⁄4 left ANG). The dMPFC ROI (open circle) is also shown. In the autism group, the left ANG just missed the minimum cluster volume threshold (1139 mm 3 ). 
Fig. 2 Functional activity in control and autism groups for (A) INTERNAL vs MATH, EXTERNAL vs MATH, and INTERNAL vs EXTERNAL contrasts; and (B) SELF vs MATH, OTHER vs MATH, and SELF vs OTHER contrasts (all P < 0.001, volume-corrected). The same mid-sagittal slice location is shown for each image. Regions with greater activity in the MATH condition relative to the other conditions are not shown. In the bottom panel, red/yellow represents regions with greater activity in the INTERNAL (A) or SELF (B) conditions, while blue represents regions with greater activity in the EXTERNAL (A) or OTHER (B) conditions. 
Fig. 4 Bar graphs depicting percent signal change in control and autism groups during INTERNAL and EXTERNAL judgments and SELF and OTHER judgments (each relative to the MATH baseline condition), shown separately for each ROI. For main effects of group collapsed across all person judgment conditions, see Figure 3. Ã P 0.05; ÃÃ P 0.01. 
Functional abnormalities of the default network during self- and other-reflection in autism

July 2008


120 Reads

Recent studies of autism have identified functional abnormalities of the default network during a passive resting state. Since the default network is also typically engaged during social, emotional and introspective processing, dysfunction of this network may underlie some of the difficulties individuals with autism exhibit in these broad domains. In the present experiment, we attempted to further delineate the nature of default network abnormality in autism using experimentally constrained social and introspective tasks. Thirteen autism and 12 control participants were scanned while making true/false judgments for various statements about themselves (SELF condition) or a close other person (OTHER), and pertaining to either psychological personality traits (INTERNAL) or observable characteristics and behaviors (EXTERNAL). In the ventral medial prefrontal cortex/ventral anterior cingulate cortex, activity was reduced in the autism group across all judgment conditions and also during a resting condition, suggestive of task-independent dysfunction of this region. In other default network regions, overall levels of activity were not different between groups. Furthermore, in several of these regions, we found group by condition interactions only for INTERNAL/EXTERNAL judgments, and not SELF/OTHER judgments, suggestive of task-specific dysfunction. Overall, these results provide a more detailed view of default network functionality and abnormality in autism.

Fig. 1 Group choices on the Blind and Semi-blind taste tests. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. ( A) In the Blind test subjects sampled two unmarked cups: one Coke and one Pepsi (20 trials). All groups preferred Pepsi to a similar extent. ( B) In the Semi-blind tests subjects sampled two cups of the same cola. One cup was accurately marked with the cola’s brand logo and the other was unmarked. Subjects completed 20 trials of a Semi-blind Coke test and 20 trials of a Semi-blind Pepsi test. NC and BDC groups made more selections for labeled Coke than for labeled Pepsi; VMPC patients showed the opposite pattern. 
Table 1 Participant data
Fig. 2 Relationship between Blind and Semi-blind choices. X-axis is the number of selections of Coke in the Blind taste test. X ¼ 20 represents maximal blind preference for Coke; X ¼ 0 represents maximal blind preference for Pepsi. Y-axis is the difference between the number of selections of labeled Coke and the number of selections of labeled Pepsi in the Semi-blind tests. Y ¼ 20 represents maximal preference for the Coke brand label; Y ¼ À20 represents maximal preference for the Pepsi brand label. (A) Among comparison participants, there is almost no correlation between Blind and Semi-blind cola preference (r ¼ 0.13). (B) Among VMPC patients, there is a moderate positive correlation between Blind and Semi-blind cola preference (r ¼ 0.47). Taken together, these data corroborate the averaged group data in Figure 1: Blind and Semi-blind preferences were consistent among VMPC patients, but not among comparison subjects.
Prefrontal cortex damage abolishes brand-cued changes in cola preference

February 2008


815 Reads

Human decision-making is remarkably susceptible to commercial advertising, yet the neurobiological basis of this phenomenon remains largely unexplored. With a series of Coke and Pepsi taste tests we show that patients with damage specifically involving ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), an area important for emotion, did not demonstrate the normal preference bias when exposed to brand information. Both comparison groups (neurologically normal adults and lesion patients with intact VMPC) preferred Pepsi in a blind taste test, but in subsequent taste tests that featured brand information (‘semi-blind’ taste tests), both comparison groups’ preferences were skewed toward Coke, illustrating the so-called ‘Pepsi paradox’. Like comparison groups, the VMPC patients preferred Pepsi in the blind taste test, but unlike comparison groups, the VMPC patients maintained their Pepsi preference in the semi-blind test. The result that VMPC damage abolishes the ‘Pepsi paradox’ suggests that the VMPC is an important part of the neural substrate for translating commercial images into brand preferences.

Fig. 1 Modulation of early ERP components during reading of emotional and neutral nouns when preceded by personal pronouns (‘Self’) or articles (‘Control’). The EPN showed a main effect of stimulus valence, i.e. the EPN was enhanced for emotional nouns as compared with neutral nouns across conditions (‘Self’ and ‘Control’). For illustration the EPN effects (gray bars) are shown at the occipital electrodes O1 and O2, separately for each condition. Topographic maps of the difference potentials of the EPN, subtracting neutral from unpleasant and neutral from pleasant nouns are shown collapsed across the condition (‘Self’ and ‘Control’). 
Table 1 Stimulus material characteristics (nouns—normative ratings)
Fig. 2 Modulation of late ERP components during reading of emotional and neutral nouns when preceded by personal pronouns (‘Self’’) or articles (‘Control’). Late ERPs in the N400-LPP time windows showed larger effects for unpleasant than pleasant or neutral nouns only in the ‘Self’ condition. Effects are illustrated at central and centro-parietal electrodes, separately for each condition. Topographic maps show the difference potentials in the N400 and the LPP time windows, subtracting pleasant from unpleasant and unpleasant from neutral nouns in the ‘Self’ condition. 
Table 2 Rating data of pronoun-noun and article-noun pairs (Participants)
Fig. 3 Free recall memory performance. Memory for correctly remembered emotional and neutral pronoun – noun and article – noun pairs as obtained from the free recall test after spontaneous processing of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral pronoun – noun and article – noun pairs. 
Self-reference modulates the processing of emotional stimuli in the absence of explicit self-referential appraisal instructions

October 2011


486 Reads

Self-referential evaluation of emotional stimuli has been shown to modify the way emotional stimuli are processed. This study aimed at a new approach by investigating whether self-reference alters emotion processing in the absence of explicit self-referential appraisal instructions. Event-related potentials were measured while subjects spontaneously viewed a series of emotional and neutral nouns. Nouns were preceded either by personal pronouns ('my') indicating self-reference or a definite article ('the') without self-reference. The early posterior negativity, a brain potential reflecting rapid attention capture by emotional stimuli was enhanced for unpleasant and pleasant nouns relative to neutral nouns irrespective of whether nouns were preceded by personal pronouns or articles. Later brain potentials such as the late positive potential were enhanced for unpleasant nouns only when preceded by personal pronouns. Unpleasant nouns were better remembered than pleasant or neutral nouns when paired with a personal pronoun. Correlation analysis showed that this bias in favor of self-related unpleasant concepts can be explained by participants' depression scores. Our results demonstrate that self-reference acts as a first processing filter for emotional material to receive higher order processing after an initial rapid attention capture by emotional content has been completed. Mood-congruent processing may contribute to this effect.

Fig. 1 Neural activity associated with concretization and abstraction. Activations are shown at an uncorrected threshold of P < 0.01, to show spatial extent. Legend displays t -values. 
Table 1 Response time (ms) by task (WH, CE) and mindset (Concrete, Abstract)
From Mind to Matter: Neural Correlates of Abstract and Concrete Mindsets.

March 2013


754 Reads

Much work in the field of social cognition shows that adopting an abstract (vs concrete) mindset alters the way people construe the world, thereby exerting substantial effects across innumerable aspects of human behavior. In order to investigate the cognitive and neural basis of these effects, we scanned participants as they performed two widely used tasks that induce an abstracting vs concretizing mindsets. Specifically, participants: (i) indicated ‘why’ perform certain activities (a task that involves abstraction) or ‘how’ the same activities are performed (a task that involves concretization) and (ii) generated superordinate categories for certain objects (a task that involves abstraction) or subordinate exemplars for the same objects (a task that involves concretization). We conducted a conjunction analysis of the two tasks, in order to uncover the neural activity associated with abstraction and concretization. The results showed that concretization was associated with activation in fronto-parietal regions implicated in goal-directed action; abstraction was associated with activity within posterior regions implicated in visual perception. We discuss these findings in light of construal-level theory’s notion of abstraction.

Fig. 1 Graphical depiction of the money (MID task) and food incentive delay task (FID task). Cues representing possible reward outcomes (1 EUR, 20 cents and 0 EUR/10 SPs, 2 SP and 0 SP, respectively) and task structure of the MID/FID. Participants were presented with a cue stipulating the amount of money/SP they could win if they reacted correctly during the following discrimination task. Immediately after target presentation, participants were informed about the amount of money/SP they had won during the trial and their cumulative total win so far. 
Table 1 Whole-brain results for the anticipation/receipt of primary and secondary rewards
Fig. 2 (a) Significant brain activation during the contrast anticipation_high for the FID task. The threshold was set at P < 0.001 uncorrected, with a cluster-defining threshold of five voxels for illustrative purposes. The blue circles denote the localization of the VS ROIs. SPM t-map was rendered on a T1-weighted template image (coronal slice, y coordinate ¼ 4 mm) supplied with mricron (Colin brain). (b) Bar chart depicting percent signal change from the right VS during different anticipation conditions for the FID task. (c) Bar chart depicting percent signal change from the left VS during different anticipation conditions for the FID task. Error bars depict SEM.
Table 2 Group maximum t-values and MNI coordinates of all activation foci found during the comparison of the MID and FID task
Fig. 3 (a) Significant brain activation during the contrast receipt_high for the FID task. The threshold was set at P < 0.001 uncorrected, with a cluster-defining threshold of five voxels for illustrative purposes. The blue circles denote the localization of the OFC ROIs. SPM t-map was rendered on a T1-weighted template image (transversal slice, z-coordinate ¼ À8 mm) supplied with mricron (Colin brain). (b) Bar chart depicting percent signal change from the right lOFC during different SP receipt conditions. (c) Bar chart depicting percent signal change from the left lOFC during different SP receipt conditions. Error bars depict SEM. (d) Correlation between percent signal change extracted at the right lOFC during the contrast receipt_high and BMI. (e) Correlation between percent signal change extracted at the left lOFC during the contrast receipt_high and BMI.
Neural dissociation of food- and money-related reward processing using an abstract incentive delay task

December 2014


464 Reads

Food is an innate reward stimulus related to energy homeostasis and survival, whereas money is considered a more general reward stimulus that gains a rewarding value through learning experiences. Although the underlying neural processing for both modalities of reward has been investigated independently from one another, a more detailed investigation of neural similarities and/ or differences between food and monetary reward is still missing. Here, we investigated the neural processing of food compared to monetary related rewards in 27 healthy, normal-weight women using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We developed a task distinguishing between the anticipation and the receipt of either abstract food or monetary reward. Both tasks activated the ventral striatum during the expectation of a reward. Compared to money, greater food related activations were observed in prefrontal, parietal and central midline structures during the anticipation and lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) during the receipt of food reward. Furthermore, during the receipt of food reward, brain activation in the secondary taste cortex was positively related to the BMI. These results indicate that food dependent activations encompass to a greater extent brain regions involved in self-control and self-reflection during the anticipation and phylogenetically older parts of the lOFC during the receipt of reward. © The Author (2014). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:

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