Social Neuroscience of Psychiatric Disorders: Emotion, Theory of Mind

Psychology Press has published a hardback version of a special issue of the journal Social Neuroscience focusing on psychiatric disorders (Vol. 6[5–6]) that was published in Oct 2011.  Here is a brief description of the volume, which was edited by Facundo Manes Of Favaloro University (Argentina) and Mario Mendez of UCLA, from the book’s website:

The need to belong to social groups and interact with others has driven much of the evolution of the human brain. The relatively young field of social neuroscience has made impressive strides towards clarifying the neural correlates of the Social Brain, but, until recently, has not focused on mental and neurological disorders. Yet, the Social Brain underlies all brain-behaviour disorders, and nearly every neuropsychiatric illness involves social behavioural disturbances. . . . Investigators evaluate neuropsychiatric disorders in the context of recent advances in social neuroscience to reveal the impact of social brain mechanisms on neuropsychiatric disorders and allow readers to glimpse the exciting potential advances in this field in the years to come.

Lots to read and process but to give a sense of what’s in store (and betraying my own bias) here are abstracts of papers from the special issue – one on schizophrenia and emotion, and two on theory of mind (cultural differences and possibly impaired in persons with schizophrenia). I’ve also pasted the TOC of the book below.

Social Neuroscience

Volume 6Issue 5-6, 2011

Special Issue: Social Neuroscience of Psychiatric Disorders


Most studies investigating emotion recognition in schizophrenia have focused on facial expressions and neglected bodily and vocal expressions. Furthermore, little is known about affective multisensory integration in schizophrenia. In the first experiment, the authors investigated recognition of static, face-blurred, whole-body expressions (instrumental, angry, fearful, and sad) with a two-alternative, forced-choice, simultaneous matching task in a sample of schizophrenia patients, nonschizophrenic psychotic patients, and matched controls. In the second experiment, dynamic, face-blurred, whole-body expressions (fearful and happy) were presented simultaneously with either congruent or incongruent human or animal vocalizations to schizophrenia patients and controls. Participants were instructed to categorize the emotion expressed by the body and to ignore the auditory information. The results of Experiment 1 show an emotion recognition impairment in the schizophrenia group and to a lesser extent in the nonschizophrenic psychosis group, and this for all four expressions. The findings of Experiment 2 show that schizophrenia patients are more influenced by the auditory information than controls, but only when the auditory information consists of human vocalizations. This shows that schizophrenia patients are impaired in recognizing whole-body expressions, and they show abnormal affective multisensory integration of bimodal stimuli originating from the same source.

Transcultural differences in brain activation patterns during theory of mind (ToM) task performance in Japanese and Caucasian participants

Background: Theory of mind (ToM) functioning develops during certain phases of childhood. Factors such as language development and educational style seem to influence its development. Some studies that have focused on transcultural aspects of ToM development have found differences between Asian and Western cultures. To date, however, little is known about transcultural differences in neural activation patterns as they relate to ToM functioning.
Experimental methods: The aim of our study was to observe ToM functioning and differences in brain activation patterns, as assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This study included a sample of 18 healthy Japanese and 15 healthy Caucasian subjects living in Japan. We presented a ToM task depicting geometrical shapes moving in social patterns. We also administered questionnaires to examine empathy abilities and cultural background factors.
Results: Behavioral data showed no significant group differences in the subjects’ post-scan descriptions of the movies. The imaging results displayed stronger activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) in the Caucasian sample during the presentation of ToM videos. Furthermore, the task-associated activation of the MPFC was positively correlated with autistic and alexithymic features [based on the behavioral data] in the Japanese sample [i.e., their activation equals Caucasians’].
Discussion: In summary, our results showed evidence of culturally dependent sociobehavioral trait patterns, which suggests that they have an impact on brain activation patterns during information processing involving ToM.
[And here are some thoughts from the paper that anthropologists might weigh in on.]

We believe the above-mentioned group comparisons indicate that Japanese participants activate the MPFC to a lesser extent because they have been taught from early childhood to “read the air” (kuuki wo yomu), or to be attuned to unspoken social signals all around and to react in a socially accepted way. Naito and Koyama (2006) argued that Japanese individuals have a delay in ToM development compared with Western children but that they are able to understand social implications without explicit information. Thus, even though Japanese children seem to develop ToM abilities later than Western children, their performance might be more sophisticated, and they may mentalize with a lower level of ToM network activation.
This interpretation is partially consistent with a previous study by Chiao and colleagues (2009), who showed that during a self-estimation task, Westerners activated the MPFC more than Asian controls. They associated this finding with individualistic traits. However, they interpreted that individualistic Caucasians overactivate the MPFC because they constantly need to distinguish between themselves, others, and their surroundings, citing findings by Kitayama and colleagues (Kitayama, Duffy, Kawamura, & Larsen, 2003). They found that even when judging external objects, North Americans tend to relate this information to themselves, while Asians attend more to the social context. We could not simply reduce our findings to cultural differences because we could not find any significant between-group differences on the IND/COL. Therefore, this discrepancy should be addressed in further studies.

Theory of mind in schizophrenia: Exploring neural mechanisms of belief attribution

Junghee Leeab*Javier QuintanaabPoorang Noriab & Michael F. Greenab


Background: Although previous behavioral studies have shown that schizophrenia patients have impaired theory of mind (ToM), the neural mechanisms associated with this impairment are poorly understood. This study aimed to identify the neural mechanisms of ToM in schizophrenia, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a belief attribution task.

Methods: In the scanner, 12 schizophrenia patients and 13 healthy control subjects performed the belief attribution task with three conditions: a false belief condition, a false photograph condition, and a simple reading condition.
Results: For the false belief versus simple reading conditions, schizophrenia patients showed reduced neural activation in areas including the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) compared with controls. Further, during the false belief versus false photograph conditions, we observed increased activations in the TPJ and the MPFC in healthy controls, but not in schizophrenia patients. For the false photograph versus simple reading condition, both groups showed comparable neural activations.

Conclusions: Schizophrenia patients showed reduced task-related activation in the TPJ and the MPFC during the false belief condition compared with controls, but not for the false photograph condition. This pattern suggests that reduced activation in these regions is associated with, and specific to, impaired ToM in schizophrenia.

Table of Contents (Book)

1. Introduction

2. Comparing social attention in autism and amygdala lesions: Effects of stimulus and task condition

3. Atypical neural specialization for social percepts in autism spectrum disorder

4. The specific impairment of fearful expression recognition and its atypical development in pervasive developmental disorder

5. Cortical deficits in emotion processing for faces in adults with ADHD: Its relation to social cognition and executive functioning

6. Neural correlates of social approach and withdrawal in patients with major depression

7. Are you really angry? The effect of intensity on facial emotion recognition in frontotemporal dementia

8. Multimodal Perception of Emotion in Psychiatric Disorders

9. Perceiving emotions from bodily expressions and multisensory integration of emotion cues in schizophrenia

10. Social impairment in schizophrenia revealed by Autistic Quotient correlated with gray matter reduction

11. Event-related potential correlates of suspicious thoughts in individuals with schizotypal personality features

12. Theory of mind in schizophrenia: Exploring neural mechanisms of belief attribution

13. Neural Networks Mediating Theory of Mind in Adolescents with Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

14. Social and emotional competence in traumatic brain injury 15. Trans-cultural differences of brain activation patterns during Theory of Mind (ToM) task performance in Japanese and Caucasian participants

16. Identification of psychopathic individuals using pattern classification of MRI images 17. A Somatic Marker Perspective of Immoral and Corrupt Behavior 18. Apathy Blunts Amygdala Reactivity to Money

Author/Editor Biography

Facundo Manes is Professor of Behavioural Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Favaloro University, Argentina. He is also Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neurology (INECO) in Buenos Aires.

Mario F. Mendez is Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, and is also Director of the Neurobehavior Unit at the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center, California, USA.

This entry was posted in challenges of interdisciplinary research by Constance A. Cummings. Bookmark the permalink.

About Constance A. Cummings

Constance A. Cummings, PhD, is Project Director of the non-profit Foundation for Psychocultural Research, which supports and advances interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the intersection of brain, mind, culture, and mental health and illness. She is co-editor (with Carol Worthman, Paul Plotsky, and Dan Schechter) of Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and (with Laurence Kirmayer and Rob Lemelson) the forthcoming Re-Visioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health (Cambridge, 2015). She received her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from New York University.

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