Common and Distinct Brain Activation to Threat and Safety Signals in Social Phobia

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University, Am Steiger 3/1, DE-07743 Jena, Germany.
Neuropsychobiology (Impact Factor: 2.26). 02/2005; 52(3):163-8. DOI: 10.1159/000087987
Source: PubMed


Little is known about the functional neuroanatomy underlying the processing of emotional stimuli in social phobia.
To investigate specific brain activation that is associated with the processing of threat and safety signals in social phobics.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activation was measured in social phobic and nonphobic subjects during the presentation of angry, happy and neutral facial expressions under free viewing conditions.
Compared to controls, phobics showed increased activation of extrastriate visual cortex regardless of facial expression. Angry, but not neutral or happy, faces elicited greater insula responses in phobics. In contrast, both angry and happy faces led to increased amygdala activation in phobics.
The results support the hypothesis that the amygdala is involved in the processing of negative and positive stimuli. Furthermore, social phobics respond sensitively not only to threatening but also to accepting faces and common and distinct neural mechanisms appear to be associated with the processing of threat versus safety signals.

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Available from: Wolfgang HR Miltner
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    • "The findings of enhanced LPPs to neutral faces in social anxiety point at the notion that ambiguous faces or neutral faces may be more threatening for socially anxious compared to healthy controls, so far from being neutral. This assumption is also supported by fMRI studies showing enhanced amygdala activations to neutral faces (Birbaumer et al., 1998; Straube et al., 2005; Cooney et al., 2006; Gentili et al., 2008). On a behavioral level, it has been demonstrated that social anxiety is also characterized by an interpretation bias such that socially anxious individuals more often interpret neutral faces as being negative (Yoon et al., 2007; Yoon and Zinbarg, 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: It has been demonstrated that verbal context information alters the neural processing of ambiguous faces such as faces with no apparent facial expression. In social anxiety, neutral faces may be implicitly threatening for socially anxious individuals due to their ambiguous nature, but even more so if these neutral faces are put in self-referential negative contexts. Therefore, we measured event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in response to neutral faces which were preceded by affective verbal information (negative, neutral, positive). Participants with low social anxiety (LSA; n = 23) and high social anxiety (HSA; n = 21) were asked to watch and rate valence and arousal of the respective faces while continuous EEG was recorded. ERP analysis revealed that HSA showed elevated P100 amplitudes in response to faces, but reduced structural encoding of faces as indexed by reduced N170 amplitudes. In general, affective context led to an enhanced early posterior negativity (EPN) for negative compared to neutral facial expressions. Moreover, HSA compared to LSA showed enhanced late positive potentials (LPP) to negatively contextualized faces, whereas in LSA this effect was found for faces in positive contexts. Also, HSA rated faces in negative contexts as more negative compared to LSA. These results point at enhanced vigilance for neutral faces regardless of context in HSA, while structural encoding seems to be diminished (avoidance). Interestingly, later components of sustained processing (LPP) indicate that LSA show enhanced visuocortical processing for faces in positive contexts (happy bias), whereas this seems to be the case for negatively contextualized faces in HSA (threat bias). Finally, our results add further new evidence that top-down information in interaction with individual anxiety levels can influence early-stage aspects of visual perception.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Frontiers in Psychology
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    • "Furthermore, any face might be potentially important to socially anxious individuals, and they " zoom in " on the details of an object that may signal whether or not the object is threatening (Derryberry & Reed, 1998). Along this line, previous research has demonstrated that social anxiety disorder (SAD) is associated with heightened amygdala activity to faces regardless of valence (Straube, Mentzel, & Miltner, 2005;Yoon, Fitzgerald, Angstadt, McCarron, & Phan, 2007). "
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    ABSTRACT: The amount of information that can be perceived and processed will be partly determined by attentional breadth (i.e., the scope of attention), which might be narrowed in social anxiety due to a negative attentional bias. The current study examined the effects of stimulus valence on socially anxious individuals' attentional breadth. Seventy-three undergraduate students completed a computerized dual-task experiment during which they were simultaneously presented with a facial picture at the center of the screen and a black circle (i.e., a target) at the periphery. Participants' task was to indicate the gender of the model in the picture and the location of the peripheral target. The peripheral target was presented either close to or far from the central picture. Higher levels of social anxiety were significantly associated with greater difficulties detecting the target presented far from the central facial pictures, suggesting that social anxiety is associated with narrowed attentional breadth around social cues. Narrowing of attentional breadth among socially anxious individuals might hamper their ability to process all available social cues, thereby perpetuating social anxiety. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2015 · Emotion
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    • "These different methods clearly show that interpretation bias is an important feature of SAD. Neuroimaging studies of emotional reactivity in SAD have demonstrated enhanced functional brain activity in limbic/paralimbic regions, including the amygdala (Stein, Goldin, Sareen, Zorrilla, & Brown, 2002;Straube, Kolassa, Glauer, Mentzel, & Miltner, 2004;Yoon, Fitzgerald, Angstadt, McCarron, & Phan, 2007), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (Amir et al., 2005), and insular cortex (Straube, Mentzel, & Miltner, 2005) in response to potential social threat cues such as harsh facial expressions (Goldin, Manber-Ball, Werner, Heimberg, & Gross, 2009; Murray B. Stein, Philippe R. Goldin, Jitender Sareen, Lisa T. Zorrilla, & Gregory G.Brown, 2002), praise, criticism (Blair, Geraci, et al., 2008), experimenter-selected negative self-belief statements (Blair, Geraci, et al., 2008), and anticipation and delivery of a speech (Blair, Shaywitz, et al., 2008;Tillfors et al., 2001), but not physical threat (Goldin, Manber-Ball, et al., 2009). However, detecting heightened emotional reactivity in individuals with SAD compared to healthy controls can depend on the type of information used as the indicator. "
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    ABSTRACT: Individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) suffer from intense fear of social evaluation, heightened emotional reactivity to social cues, and problems implementing effective forms of emotion regulation (ER), particularly in social situations. In this chapter, we examine the role of emotion and ER in SAD to elucidate how different families of ER strategies function in individuals with SAD, and are modified by clinical interventions for SAD, specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014
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