Revisioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health

The concept of mental illness in the West is largely shaped by the DSM diagnostic model. The DSM categorization of psychiatric disorders has been useful in driving research, and psychiatric neuroscience has made enormous strides in identifying some of the brain-based factors that contribute to mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, as well as suggesting possible drug therapies. Continue reading

3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Schizophrenia Roundup

Many thanks (seriously) to Nev Jones for sending so many great suggestions my way.

1. Variation – among individuals, geographically,  and across cultures – in the incidence, precedence, and course of schizophrenia is more complex than previously suggested by three WHO studies (on a putatively better outcome in “developing” vs. “developed” countries). For example, regional data from the Worldwide-Schizophrenia Outpatient Health Outcomes or W-SOHO study suggest a better clinical outcome but a worse functional outcome in regions other than “North Europe” (See, e.g., Haro et al’s “Cross-national clinical and functional remission rates.”)

Studies also continue to support variation within geographical region, e.g., Kirkbride et al’s PLOS One systematic review, “Incidence of schizophrenia and other psychoses in England, 1950–2009,” which describes, in particular, higher rates among “migrants and their descendants of black Caribbean and black African origin” and among those of “mixed ethnicity,” which the authors suggest may be a possible marker of “third-generation descendants.” Urban birth/upbringing also remains a significant risk factor, “independent of differences in the age, sex and ethnic population structure of different geographical areas, and correlated to a number of socio-environmental factors including ethnic density, social cohesion, social fragmentation, deprivation, and inequality.”

2. Early Adversity: A 3/29/12 meta-analysis published online by Jim van Os et al. supports the link between childhood adversity and risk of psychosis.  “Childhood adversities increase the risk of psychosis: A meta-analysis of patient-control, prospective- and cross-sectional cohort studies.” The addition of cannabis use appears to increase risk even further (Konings et al., 2012). But see also Susser and Widom’s July 2012 critique of such studies, “Still searching for lost truths about the bitter sorrows of childhood.

3. Diagnosis and Social Abandonment: In “Psychosis and the fog of reality,” Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks has provided pdfs of two articles by journalist Rachel Aviv: “God knows where I am: What should happen when patients reject their diagnosis?” in the 5/30/11 New Yorker and “Which way madness lies: Can psychosis be prevented?” in the 12/10 issue of Harper’s. See also David Dobbs’s post, “What’s it like to be schizophrenic” and Jocelyn Marrow and Tanya Luhrmann’s recent paper for Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (CMP) on social abandonment in India and the US. And finally, Schomerus et al’s (2012) bleak conclusion of their meta-analysis that “Increasing public understanding of the biological correlates of mental illness seems not to result in better social acceptance of persons with mental illness.”

4. Cognition/Anthropology of Neuroscience: Elizabeth Bromley, Gail Fox Adams, and John Brekke’s “A video ethnography approach for linking naturalistic behaviors to research constructs of neurocognition in schizophrenia” in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (3/1/12). See also Bromley’s exploration of researchers’ understanding of the concept of “cognition” as it applies to schizophrenia in “The Texture of the Real” (CMP, 2012).

5. First-person Experience: The blog Ruminations on Madness, provides, as always, some much-need insight on philosophy, psychiatry, and first-person experience. In “Excerpts from the journals of E” the author provides us with the fragments of a brilliant philosophy student’s trajectory following his first episode of  psychosis.

The blog itself testifies to the more complex view that “schizophrenia” covers a range of conditions, capacities, and behaviors, that outcomes are as diverse as the people to whom the label is attached, and that living with the disorder offers in itself an important research perspective. The blog is an opportunity for significant advocacy, in regard to which, addressing anthropologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and others in the mental health field in Berlin last year, Arthur Kleinman said,

We have all failed in a way that our brothers and sisters and cousins in the AIDS community have not failed. If you went back twenty years, you would see that everything I’ve said about the chronically mentally ill you could say about AIDS patients. And in twenty years the situation for AIDS patients has radically changed. There has been enormous efficacy from advocacy in the AIDS field. We have failed in the area of advocacy. And what I want to suggest is that in the future those of who who build your careers here: Advocacy will be part of your careers. Rather than seeing advocacy as a threat to academic life, you’re going to come to see advocacy as central to the new academy in the future.”


See also Ford & Mathalon’s (2012) review, “Neurobiology of schizophrenia: Search for the elusive correlation with symptoms” in Frontiers.

1. Epigenetics: Steven Hyman, “Target practice: HDAC inhibitors for schizophrenia,” in News and Views / Nature Neuroscience published online 8/28/12 re Kurita et al. on targeting epigenetic changes that occur with the use of antipsychotics.

2. Vulnerability: Jim van Os and Richard Linscott’s introduction to a special issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin,The extended psychosis phenotype – Relationship with schizophrenia and with ultrahigh risk status for psychosis.

3. More Gene x Environment: Book review of The Origins of Schizophrenia, edited by Alan Brown and Paul Patterson. (Reviewed by Michael Owen, MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, and Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, Cardiff University.)

4. Schizophrenia and Autism: Kong et al’s 8/23/11 Nature paper, “Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father’s age to disease risk.

5. Auditory Hallucinations: A series of related papers featured in July 2012 Schizophrenia Bulletin prepared by members of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research [InCoHR] working groups.


1. DSM-5: Randy Tanon and William Carpenter’s, DSM-5 Status of Psychotic Disorders: 1 Year Prepublication” dd. 4/13/12 in Schizophrenia Bulletin provides a “snapshot of current status of potential changes” in DSM-5 regarding psychotic disorders. The proposed revisions include a “schizophrenia spectrum concept (which would include the attenuated psychosis syndrome listed in Section III – see [4] below). Also, the subtypes of SZ will be dropped in favor of eight or nine possible “dimensional ratings of different psychopathology domains,” including hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, abnormal psychomotor behavior, negative symptoms, impaired cognition, depression, and mana. (NB: “Catatonia, formerly a subtype, will now be listed as a “specifier for psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and general medical disorders.”) The authors note that “the issue of how many dimensions are useful, reliably assessed, necessary, and practical remains an open question.”

2. Diagnostic labels: Ruminations on Madness (“In defense of the schizophrenia construct (?)” ) argues that labels can obscure differences between persons and kinds of experiences, but is

less sure … that the advantages of more dimensional or non-label-based approaches outweigh the potential benefits—benefits, specifically, in the domain of identity. Like most sociopolitical minority group labels (Latino or Autistic, for example), “schizophrenic” cuts an arguably over-wide swathe and yet clearly marks something that, for cultural, historical and individual reasons, is shared between individuals and provides a (potentially vital) sense of collective ‘being’ and cohesion. [To make this a little more personal, and to repeat something that I believe I’ve said many times in earlier posts,  I do not think I would be alive today were it not for the deep and sustaining sense of recognition and belonging I found early on in Louis Sass’ brilliant work on schizophrenia.]

3.  Attenuated Psychosis Syndrome (Proposed for Section III of the DSM-5) (Revised April 27, 2012): Because of reliability issues (according to Tanon and Carpenter validity is “fairly established), “this condition is being recommended for further study in Section III, which is the section of the DSM-5 text in which conditions that require further research will be included.”

4. A good prior discussion/debate by Carpenter and Jim van Os, “Should attenuated psychosis syndrome be a DSM-5 diagnosis?” in  Am J Psychiatry 2011, and also a recent review, “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose,” But At-Risk Criteria Differ” by Schultze-Lutter et al. of University Hospital of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry (Bern) and Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (Cologne).

5. William Carpenter’s “The future of schizophrenia pharmacotherapeutics: Not so bleak” in response to Chattaranjan Andrade, Rajiv Radhakrishnan, and Praveen Fernandes, “Psychopharmacology of schizophrenia: The future looks bleak,” in Mens Sana (2012). One question he raises is how reconceptualization of schizophrenia as a multi-dimensional construct will affect drug development?

See also the following (non-psychosis specific):

3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup: Empathy (August 6)

UPDATE: New links from Lori Hogenkamp via Facebook at end of post.

Brief note: I’ve come to realize that empathy (and its putative component processes – mirror neuron networks, affect sharing, mentalizing) brings out almost everything that’s problematic in social neuroscience research: problems of a conceptually vague cover term, problems with extrapolating from animal models (e.g., monkeys don’t imitate); problems with fMRI/ROI, problems with science writing for the public (e.g., this publisher blurb for Marco Iacoboni’s Mirroring People: “From imitation to morality, from learning to addiction, from political affiliations to consumer choices, mirror neurons seem to have properties that are relevant to all these aspects of social cognition”), problems with a too-powerful metaphor (err, the mirror) that’s hard to repack in the box after that last quote :( problems with extrapolating in other ways (see Emily Willingham’s post on what she describes as the “no empathy in autism meme” – as Ian Hacking said, “The history of late 20th century medicine will … also [be] a history of advocacy groups”), etc., etc.

On second thought, there are many positive implications that hover over all this work – for theory of mind, radical embodied cognition, network science approaches to the brain’s structural and functional connectivity  . . .

Many thanks to the Neuroanthropology Interest Group on Facebook for suggestions and Center for Building a Culture of Empathy and Compassion for inspiration! 


1. “Empathy as cultural process: Insights from the cultural neuroscience of empathy” by Bobby Cheon, Vani Mathur, and Joan Chiao (WCPRR, 2010).

2. Via Eugene Raikhel (Neuroanthropology Interest Group): See the just-published special issue of “Science in Context” on “The Varieties of Empathy in Science, Art, and History.” It includes an article by Shaun Gallagher (“Empathy, Simulation, and Narrative“), one by Allan Young (“The Social Brain and the Myth of Empathy“) and a number of others.

3. Roundup on “Anthropology, Teaching, and Empathy” in early 2012 by Jason Antrosio of Anthropology Report and a related post by Rex on Savage Minds, “Empathy, or, seeing from within.”

4. Hollan, D. C., & Throop, C. J. (2011). The anthropology of empathy: Experiencing the lives of others in Pacific societies. New York: Berghahn.

5. Blog post by Emily Willingham (Dec 2011): “Autistic people: Insensitive to social reputation, sure, but what about empathy?” on the website Autism and Empathy.


1. Bernhardt, B. C., & Singer, T. (2012). The neural basis of empathy. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 1–23.

2. Decety, J. Norman, G. J., Berntson, G. G., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). A neurobehavioral evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms underlying empathy. Progress in Neurobiology, 98(1), 38–48. See also, Decety, J. (2011b). The neuroevolution of empathyAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1231, 35–45.

3. Zaki, J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2012). The neuroscience of empathy: Progress, pitfalls and promiseNature Neuroscience: Focus on Social Neuroscience [Perspective], 15(5), 675–680.

4. Decety, J. (2011a). Dissecting the neural mechanisms mediating empathy. Emotion Review, 3,92–108. See also, Decety, J. (2010). To what extent is the experience of empathy mediated by shared neural circuits? Emotion Review, 2(3), 204–207.

5. “Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats” Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason. See also 2011 Science paper by same group.



1. Cheng, Y., Hung, A., & Decety, J. (2012). Dissociation between affective sharing and emotion understanding in juvenile psychopathsDevelopment and Psychopathology, 24, 623–636.

[From Abstract]. . . youth with HCU [high callous-unemotional traits] exhibit atypical neural dynamics of pain empathy processing in the early stage of affective arousal, which is coupled with their relative insensitivity to actual pain. Their capacity to understand intentionality, however, was not affected. Such uncoupling between affective arousal and emotion understanding may contribute to instigating aggressive behaviors in juvenile psychopaths.

[From the paper] It is  important that the affective arousal deficit . . . cannot be explained by a lack of sensorimotor resonance [i.e., mirror neurons], as measured by mu wave suppression [this was an ERP study], which was present in a ll participants. This finding indicates that affective arousal is not mediated by the mirror neuron system.

2. “Empathy and alterity in cultural psychiatry” by Laurence Kirmayer (Ethos, 2008).

3. “Empathy and otherness: Humanistic and phenomenological approaches to psychotherapy of severe mental illness” by Elizabeth Pienkos and Louis Sass (Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, 2012).

4. Empathy in mental illness edited by Tom Farrow and Peter Woodruff (CUP, 2007).

5. “Zero degrees of empathy” by Simon Baron-Cohen, covering disorders of empathy (borderline personality disorder, psychopathy, narcissism) and genetic, endocrine, and social influences.


Great discussion on Twitter b/w Nature ed Noah Gray and science writer Carl Zimmer

  1. Share
    Gene therapy, epigenetics, and the scientific hype cycle: my review/essay in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal:…
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:39:50
  2. Share
    “@spellingwitch: @carlzimmer Epigenetics is so fascinating.” Indeed. But also a magnet for squishy thinking.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:42:38
  3. Share
    .@carlzimmer I’d be careful about painting with such a broad brush. Scientists don’t (can’t) drive hype cycles nearly as hard as the media.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:49:33
  4. Share
    @brentdanley @spellingwitch By squishy thinking I mean, “Epigenetics changes EVERYTHING!” See my review for an example.…
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:49:55
  5. Share
    @noahWG Well, no one forces scientists to give over-the-top predictions in interviews! (And no one forces reporters to offer false hope.)
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:51:06
  6. Share
    .@carlzimmer And RE: epigenetics driving squishy thinking? Not in my experience amongst most SCIENTISTS. That field is brutal on itself.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:51:11
  7. Share
    @noahWG I didn’t mean to suggest that scientists were doing the squishy thinking about epigenetics. Again, see my review for epigenetics woo
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:52:05
  8. Share
    @noahWG See also Jerry Coyne on a tirade against epigenetics-mania from other scientists: whyevolutionistrue.wordpre…
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:53:09
  9. Share
    @carlzimmer Let’s estimate a rule: For every over-the-top scientist prediction a journo runs with, there are ~10 sci’s who’ll debunk it.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:54:05
  10. Share
    @carlzimmer I did. It was mainly focused on the well-documented early failures of gene therapy. Epigenetics is hardly equitable at this pt.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:56:07
  11. Share
    @noahWG Let’s get some data on that first before we call it a rule!
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:57:57
  12. Share
    @carlzimmer Thanks for the post. It epitomizes a massive disconnect b/t the real sci & external views. Coyne’s fighting a diff fight there.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:58:40
  13. Share
    @carlzimmer If you can get all of your journalism students to collect the data points as they prepare stories, I’ll collate!!
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:00:00
  14. Share
    @noahWG “real scientists and external views” on epigenetics? What about this:…
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:12:51
  15. Share
    @carlzimmer The NIH has a hit-or-miss track record with their “big biology big money” pet projects. Latest is the human brain connectome.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:15:48
  16. Share
    @carlzimmer But fair enough; I’m just wondering whether it’s part of the hype cycle to criticize epigenetics as part of the hype cycle!
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:18:49
  17. Share
    @noahWG Of course! That’s how we get into the trough of disillusionment! ;-)…
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:19:46
  18. Share
    @carlzimmer You dog! You’re just trying to accelerate the process so we can get right to the Plateau of Productivity. Genius!!
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:21:09
  19. Share
    @noahWG You’ll thank me in 5-10 years, when epigenetic drugs let us live forever and have only mild dementia for eternity.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:22:48
  20. Share
    @rkhamsi @carlzimmer Think it’s a concern RE:OVERspending at the expense of other meaningful projects. I assume return quant = always fuzzy!
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:25:51
  21. Share
    @ih_C_hi @carlzimmer Glad you enjoyed it because now all it means is I’ll have to read these papers over the weekend to catch up. :(
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:28:27
  22. Share
    @BioinfoTools @carlzimmer That’s why sci journos need to ask and engage. And ask. And ask!! And then ask again!! (to diff sci’s, of course.)
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 17:51:25
  23. Share
    Twitter, What I Learned Today #TWILT @carlzimmer taught me about the Hype Cycle pertaining to the complex course of scientific expectations.
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 21:09:20
  24. Share
    #TWILT In the hype cycle, I’m pretty sure my social media persona’s currently in the “Peak of Inflated Disillusionment”
    Fri, Mar 09 2012 21:09:45

CMB 2012 hot topic: “Functional and Clinical Neuroanatomy of Morality”

Alberto Priori of Università degli Studi di Milano, has just sent me an advanced copy of his co-authored review on morality for Brain.  (This was in response to our email blast about the FPR-UCLA 2012 conference, “Culture, Mind, and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Applications.”)  Unfortunately, we don’t have the space to give morality its full due in the conference program, but I’m posting the abstract and link since this is sure to be a “hot topic” for discussion and debate at the conference.

Brain. 2012 Feb 13. [Epub ahead of print]

Functional and clinical neuroanatomy of morality.


Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche, Università degli Studi di Milano, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, 20122 Milano, Italy.


Morality is among the most sophisticated features of human judgement, behaviour and, ultimately, mind. An individual who behaves immorally may violate ethical rules and civil rights, and may threaten others’ individual liberty, sometimes becoming violent and aggressive. In recent years, neuroscience has shown a growing interest in human morality, and has advanced our understanding of the cognitive and emotional processes involved in moral decisions, their anatomical substrates and the neurology of abnormal moral behaviour. In this article, we review research findings that have provided a key insight into the functional and clinical neuroanatomy of the brain areas involved in normal and abnormal moral behaviour. The ‘moral brain’ consists of a large functional network including both cortical and subcortical anatomical structures. Because morality is a complex process, some of these brain structures share their neural circuits with those controlling other behavioural processes, such as emotions and theory of mind. Among the anatomical structures implicated in morality are the frontal, temporal and cingulate cortices. The prefrontal cortex regulates activity in subcortical emotional centres, planning and supervising moral decisions, and when its functionality is altered may lead to impulsive aggression. The temporal lobe is involved in theory of mind and its dysfunction is often implicated in violent psychopathy. The cingulate cortex mediates the conflict between the emotional and the rational components of moral reasoning. Other important structures contributing to moral behaviour include the subcortical nuclei such as the amygdala, hippocampus and basal ganglia. Brain areas participating in moral processing can be influenced also by genetic, endocrine and environmental factors. Hormones can modulate moral behaviour through their effects on the brain. Finally, genetic polymorphisms can predispose to aggressivity and violence, arguing for a genetic-based predisposition to morality. Because abnormal moral behaviour can arise from both functional and structural brain abnormalities that should be diagnosed and treated, the neurology of moral behaviour has potential implications for clinical practice and raises ethical concerns. Last, since research has developed several neuromodulation techniques to improve brain dysfunction (deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation), knowing more about the ‘moral brain’ might help to develop novel therapeutic strategies for neurologically based abnormal moral behaviour.

Call for Proposals: Cross-Disciplinary Conversations Around the Neurosciences

From NeuroSelves to NeuroSocieties:
Cross-disciplinary Conversations around the Neurosciences

June 11th & 12th, 2012
An interdisciplinary conference hosted by Hampshire College, Amherst MA and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research-Hampshire College
Program in Culture, Brain & Development

Call for Proposals

Our understandings of self and society are being transformed by the neurosciences. At the same time neuroscience is shaped and driven by social structures such as law, media and education, and informed by fields such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy and evolutionary biology. The emerging fields of neuroethics, neurolaw and neuroeconomics are a testament to the desire to apply a better understanding of the brain to moral and social issues, but also point to a need to understand the myriad ethical, legal and cultural implications of the science itself.

This conference offers an opportunity for cross-disciplinary communication among scholars from many disciplines around how the neurosciences shape – and are shaped by – diverse social forces and cultural ideas.

We invite proposals from faculty and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives.

Please submit a proposal that describes your background, interest, and proposed presentation topic.  Participants will be expected to give a short presentation of how their work engages with – or could shed light on – issues at the intersections of law, philosophy, economics, ethics, or some other aspect of the cultural/social/political sphere and the neurosciences. Participants will receive a $500 stipend. Some assistance is available to help with travel costs; applicants are invited to apply for travel funding.

The conference program features two keynote speakers: Dr. Adina Roskies, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College, and Dr. Peter Reiner, Professor, National Core for Neuroethics and the Kinsman Laboratory of Neurological Research, Department of Psychiatry and Brain Research Center, University of British Columbia.

Presentations and panels will be structured around participant interests and proposals. For illustrative purposes only, possible topics might include (but are not limited to): changing conceptions of moral, personal or economic decision-making; diagnosis, treatment and conceptions of mental illness; ethical challenges posed by neuroscience research; art and neuroscience of creativity; social and ethical implications of neuropharmacological interventions; interactions between educational policies, practices, and the neurosciences; questions of free will and human agency; neuroscience of empathy, trust, and sociality; brain imagery and popular media; neuroscientific recasting of social problems such as addiction and violence.

Please go to for more information about the conference and submitting a proposal. The deadline to submit proposals is February 15th, 2012.  Please send proposals and questions to Ryan McLaughlin, CBD coordinator, .

Call for Proposals – From NeuroSelves to NeuroSocieties: Cross-Disciplinary Conversations Around the Neurosciences

Laura Sizer, Dean of the School of Cognitive Science and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hampshire College, is organizing a small conference next summer to explore “issues at the intersections of the neurosciences and the social sciences and humanities.” The conference is supported by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research – Hampshire College’s Program in Culture, Brain & Development. Below is the call for conference proposals; feel free to pass it on to interested colleagues.

From NeuroSelves to NeuroSocieties:  Cross-disciplinary Conversations Around the Neurosciences

June 11th & 12th, 2012
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

An interdisciplinary conference hosted by Hampshire College  and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research-Hampshire College  Program in Culture, Brain & Development.

Call for Proposals

Our understandings of self and society are being transformed by the neurosciences. At the same time neuroscience is shaped and driven by social structures such as law, media and education, and informed by fields such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy and evolutionary biology. The emerging fields of neuroethics, neurolaw and neuroeconomics are a testament to the desire to apply a better understanding of the brain to moral and social issues, but also point to a need to understand the myriad ethical, legal and cultural implications of the science itself.

This conference offers an opportunity for cross-disciplinary communication among scholars from many disciplines around how the neurosciences shape – and are shaped by – diverse social forces and cultural ideas.

We invite proposals from faculty and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives. 

Please submit a proposal that describes your background, interest, and proposed presentation topic.  Participants will be expected to give a short presentation of how their work engages with – or could shed light on – issues at the intersections of law, philosophy, economics, ethics, or some other aspect of the cultural/social/political sphere and the neurosciences. Participants will receive a $500 stipend. Some assistance is available to help with travel costs; applicants are invited to apply for travel funding.

The conference program features two keynote speakers: Dr. Adina Roskies, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College, and Dr. Peter Reiner, Professor, National Core for Neuroethics and the Kinsman Laboratory of Neurological Research, Department of Psychiatry and Brain Research Center, University of British Columbia.

Presentations and panels will be structured around participant interests and proposals. For illustrative purposes only, possible topics might include (but are not limited to): changing conceptions of moral, personal or economic decision-making; diagnosis, treatment and conceptions of mental illness; ethical challenges posed by neuroscience research; art and neuroscience of creativity; social and ethical implications of neuropharmacological interventions; interactions between educational policies, practices, and the neurosciences; questions of free will and human agency; neuroscience of empathy, trust, and sociality; brain imagery and popular media; neuroscientific recasting of social problems such as addiction and violence.

Please go to for more information about the conference and submitting a proposal. The deadline to submit proposals is February 15th, 2012.  Please send proposals and questions to Ryan McLaughlin, CBD coordinator, .

Sampling the great posters (!) at 11/11 Soc for Social Neuroscience meeting

I’ll be blogging at the 2011 Society for Social Neuroscience conference on Nov 10–11, 2011, for an interdisciplinary audience. I’m excited about this; I’d like to think of the next ten years as a decade of curiosity (to work outside narrow boundaries) and transformation as much as challenge (particularly for the new generation of academics) in which the possibilities and the pitfalls of expanding social and cultural neuroscience research programs are explored.

Err, back to Earth, this morning I decided to read through the poster abstracts and was quickly overwhelmed by the need to cover everything. Below is a sampling of fifteen abstracts that piqued my interest vis-a-vis our edited volume in process and our next conference (“the emerging neuroscience of culture”). Or, better, download the full program here.

Activity of cortical midline structures during two conditions of autobiographical self Authors: Helder F. Araujo, Jonas Kaplan, Hanna Damasio, and Antonio Damasio

Abstract: At each moment, we can access information about our own body, which includes the changes that occur as a consequence of interactions with the world and of functional adjustments within the organism’s interior. Ultimately, many such moments of self-knowledge are recorded in memory and are integrated in a coherent biography (the autobiographical self, Damasio, 1998, 1999, 2010), which amplifies the scope of the self process and can be used, as needed, in conscious social interactions. The neural basis of the autobiographical self has not been fully elucidated, although one of the most consistent findings of studies about self-reference is the involvement of cortical midline structures (CMSs): medial prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and posteromedial. However, most of these studies have targeted a limited domain of autobiographical self: the investigation of personal traits. Here we explore the involvement of CMSs in the domain of factual biography, e.g. facts that compose each person’s identity. In addition, we also study the involvement of CMS in the evaluation of personal traits, a domain often approached in investigations on self-reference. This is an fMRI block design study, in which 19 subjects answered questions about their own traits, about their factual biography, about the traits of an acquaintance and about factual biography of an acquaintance (4 experimental conditions). In each run, each of the conditions (blocks of 24 seconds) is repeated 3 times and separated by a ‘one-back-task’ (also in blocks of 24 seconds). The one-back-task was used as a baseline. There were a total of three runs per study. Preliminary analysis of data suggests that CMSs are involved in processing both self and non-self biographic information. In some regions of CMSs, non-self conditions were even correlated with higher activity levels than did self-related conditions. These results prompt further discussion about the role of CMSs in self-reference.

Damasio AR: Investigating the biology of consciousness. Transactions of the Royal Society (London) 353:1879-1882, 1998.
Damasio AR: The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt, New York, 1999
Damasio A: Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. Pantheon, 2010
Affiliations: Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, USA; Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California, USA; Graduate Program in Areas of Basic and Applied Biology, University of Oporto, Portugal
Keywords: self, cortical midline structures

Bounded Empathy: Neural Responses to Outgroup Targets’ (Mis)fortunes
Authors: Mina Cikara and Susan Fiske

Abstract: A cursory reading of the emotion, empathy, and perception–action literatures might leave one with the impression that people spontaneously experience empathy in response to seeing another person in distress. Recent developments in social psychological and cognitive neuroscience research suggest otherwise: People frequently fail to empathize to the same extent with outgroup members as ingroup members. Not all outgroups are equivalent, however. Depending on the target, people may feel not only less empathy but also pleasure (Schadenfreude) in response to outgroup members’ misfortunes. In contrast, there may also be specific outgroups for whom people feel even more empathy than ingroup members when they suffer a misfortune. Furthermore, no intergroup empathy study of which we are aware has assessed empathy for positive events, which demonstrably varies as a function of group membership. The current fMRI study investigates whether mere stereotypes are sufficient to modulate empathic responses to other people’s good and bad fortunes, how these modulations manifest in the brain, and whether these affective and neural responses relate to endorsing harm against different outgroup targets. Participants report that they feel least bad when misfortunes befall envied targets and worst when misfortunes befall pitied targets, as compared with ingroup targets. Participants are also least willing to endorse harming pitied targets, despite pitied targets being outgroup members. However, those participants who exhibit increased activation in functionally defined insula/middle frontal gyrus when viewing pity targets experience positive events not only report feeling worse about those events but also more willing to harm pity targets in a tradeoff scenario. Similarly, increased activation in anatomically defined bilateral anterior insula, in response to positive events, predicts increased willingness to harm envy targets, but decreased willingness to harm ingroup targets, above and beyond self-reported affect in response to the events. Stereotypes’ specific content and not just outgroup membership modulates empathic responses and related behavioral consequences including harm.

Affiliations: MIT, Princeton University
Keywords: empathy, schadendfreude, stereotypes, fMRI

Facial expressions in mice
Authors: Erwin Defensor, Michael Corley, D. Caroline Blanchard, and Robert Blanchard

Abstract: A previous study described a method to measure facial expressions in mice experiencing pain (Langford et al, 2010). The method measured graded changes in the eyes, ears, cheek, nose and vibrissae of the mouse. Similar criteria were adopted in the current study to further characterize the nature of mouse facial expressions in several conditions: a medium bristle brush approaching the face, non-aggressive social interaction, aggressive social interaction, rat exposure and cat odor exposure. Results showed situation-dependent changes in facial expressions of mice. Most notably, different facial expressions were clearly displayed by resident and intruder mice prior to and during aggressive encounters, suggesting that changes in particular facial components may serve to protect sensitive or exposed body parts. The use of facial expressions as social signals is also discussed.

Affiliation: University of Hawaii
Keywords: facial expressions, aggression, social behavior

Neurochemistry of the BTBR T+tf/J mouse model of autism Authors: Ashley L. Jensen, Erwin B. Defensor, Brandon L. Pearson, D.C. Blanchard, Robert J. Blanchard and Adrian J. Dunn

Abstract: Autism is defined by three core behavioral features: impaired reciprocal social interactions, impaired communication and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Despite the absence of a reliable biomarker, several neuropathologies have been associated with the disorder including increased cortical volume at particular developmental ages, agenesis of the corpus callosum and dysfunction of neurotransmitter systems. Animal models allow investigation of anatomical, neurochemical and hormonal abnormalities potentially related to this disorder. Previous studies have shown that the inbred BTBR T+tf/J mouse strain (BTBR) displays several behaviors analogous to the core symptoms of autism. The current study measured central neurotransmitter activity in the BTBR at basal concentrations and also in response to a novel environment and social proximity. Brain tissue concentrations of norepinephrine (NE), dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT) and their respective metabolites were measured using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with electrochemical detection. Behavioral results were consistent with previous findings in the social proximity test, showing that BTBR mice displayed decreased facial contact and increased crawl over and crawl under behaviors. Several neurochemcial strain differences were observed, especially in cortical and cerebellar concentrations of DA and 5-HT.

Affiliations: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Psychology; Pacific Biosciences Research Center
Keywords: autism, animal models, neurotransmitters

From neural responses to population behavior: Neural focus group predicts population level media effects
Authors: Emily B. Falk, Elliot T. Berkman, and Matthew D. Lieberman

Abstract: Can neural responses to persuasive messages predict individual behavior change? Can the neural responses of a small group of individuals predict the behavior of larger groups of people (e.g. at the city or state level)? We will present data addressing these questions using a “brain-as-predictor” approach. Prior research demonstrates that individual and group behaviors can be predicted using neural activity recorded in response to public health messages. More specifically, neural activity in an a priori region of interest in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC, BA10) during exposure to persuasive messages predicted behavior change above and beyond self-report measures (such as intentions and self-efficacy to change behavior). The present study builds directly on prior work in our lab in which we explored a behavior of relatively low motivational relevance (sunscreen use) and predicted individual behavior change over one week, and a follow-up study in which we predicted a behavior of high motivational relevance (smokers trying to quit) over a longer period of time (one month); in this context, neural signals more than doubled the variance explained by traditional self-report measures alone. Here, we will present results from an investigation in which neural activity in response to different mass media campaigns predicted the media campaigns’ relative success at changing behavior at the population level, significantly above chance levels. By contrast, the same participants’ self-reported projections of campaign efficacy did not predict the relative success of the campaigns at the population level. Our results highlight the use of the brain-as-predictor analysis approach, in which neural signals from a priori regions of interest are used to predict real-world outcomes of importance over weeks or months; furthermore, we extend the brain-as-predictor approach from predicting individual difference outcomes to show that neural signals not only predict individual behavior change, but may also predict population-level health behaviors. Finally, our results suggest that the brain contains hidden wisdom about the impact of persuasive messages at the individual and population level that is not otherwise accounted for in models of persuasion and behavior change.

Affiliations: University of Michigan, University of Oregon, University of California, Los Angeles
Keywords: fMRI, health, media, persuasion

Rewarding properties of aggression in the male Syrian hamster Authors: Mario Gil, Mark McDonald, Ngoc-Thao Nguyen, and H. Elliott Albers

Abstract: Conditioned place preference (CPP) is a type of classical conditioning in which an animal develops a preference for a compartment or environment that was previously paired with a rewarding stimulus. We tested the hypothesis that male Syrians hamsters can develop a CPP for aggression. Our CPP paradigm consisted of three phases: (1) initial preference tests (pretests), (2) conditioning, and (3) a final preference test (posttest). For all preference tests, the amount of time spent in each compartment of the CPP apparatus was recorded. The animals used in this study showed a clear initial preference for 1 of the 2 compartments. For the conditioning trials, an individually-housed (experimental) male was paired with a nonaggressive group-housed male (stimulus) in their non-preferred compartment for 10 min. An hour before or after stimulus-paired trials in the non-preferred compartment, experimental males were placed alone in their preferred compartment for 10 min. This procedure occurred daily for 5 consecutive days, and order of placement in the compartments was alternated daily. Preference scores and difference scores were calculated for both (pre and post) preference tests. There were no significant differences between pretest and posttest scores for control animals (n=13). Four of the experimental animals flank marked but didn’t show aggression toward the stimulus males. There was a trend toward an increase in preference scores (p=0.1) and a decrease in the difference scores (p=0.09) following conditioning in these animals. That is, before conditioning the mean preference and difference scores were 0.29 (±0.01) and 324.63 (±21.34), respectively. After conditioning, scores changed to 0.49 (±0.08) and 6.25 (±114.50), respectively. Eleven experimental animals showed low to medium levels of aggression. In these animals, conditioning significantly increased the mean preference score from 0.36 (± 0.02) to 0.50 (±0.05) (p< 0.05), while the mean difference score decreased from 208.55 (±26.17) to 5.55 (±76.82) (p< 0.05). The strongest effect was observed in 6 highly aggressive males, as conditioning significantly increased their mean preference score from 0.34 (±0.04) to 0.56 (±0.04) (p< 0.01), while their mean difference score changed from 240.42 (±54.98) to -86.50 (±68.99) (p< 0.01). Our results demonstrate that the Syrian hamster is an excellent rodent model for the study of the rewarding properties of aggression & social behavior. Our data support the hypothesis that aggression has rewarding properties and suggest that the expression of social dominance in nonaggressive animals may also be rewarding. Supported by NSF Grant IOS-0923301 to HEA.

Affiliations: Center for Behavioral Neuroscience; Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA USA
Keywords: aggression, social behavior, motivation, hamsters

Child maltreatment, cumulative lifetime stress and amygdala volume
Authors: Jamie Hanson, Moo Chung . Brian Avants, Karen Rudolph, Elizabeth Shirtcliff, James Gee, Richard Davidson, and Seth Pollak

Abstract: Child maltreatment and cumulative lifetime stress (e.g., unexpected deaths in the family, major health issues) are associated with a cascade of deleterious changes such as major alterations in important brain circuitry, negative outcomes in behavioral functioning, and increased risk for certain psychopathologies (for review, see Lupien et al., 2009). Child maltreatment and the associated disruption of the primary care-giving relationship, in particular, may be a unique diathesis for socio-emotional difficulties, as children who suffer abuse or deprivation/neglect experience significant problems with sensitivity to social boundaries, establishing relationships, emotion regulation under conditions of stress or change, and processing of specific emotions (Pollak, 2008). By investigating the commonalities and discontinuities existing in the sequelae of these different forms of adverse experiences, unique insights may be garnered regarding normative and atypical functioning. For example, there may be unique interactions between child maltreatment and cumulative lifetime stress, with greater negative impacts in children who have faced this early adversity than in those who have not faced this adversity. In this study, we examined the neurobiological correlates of lifetime stress exposure in a sample of children with and without a history of child maltreatment (n=128; mean age=12.6 years), using Symmetric Normalization (Avants & Gee, 2004) and a tensor-based morphometry analytic framework. We hypothesized that cumulative lifetime stress exposure would uniquely affect the amygdala, a brain region central to the processing of socio-emotional information, in children who suffered from early maltreatment but not those who did not suffer from early maltreatment. As hypothesized, a significant association emerged between higher levels of life stress and smaller amygdalae volumes in maltreated children (t=3.6, p<.005, uncorrected; see figure below) but not in non-maltreated children. Individual differences in amygdala volume were related (r=-.296, p=.015) to socio-emotional functioning (e.g., number of close friends, frequency of disciplinary issues at school) as assessed by semi-structured interviews with children and their parents. These findings suggest maltreatment and higher levels of cumulative lifetime stress may interact to uniquely affect important socio-emotional neural circuitry. Results will also be discussed in relation to neuroendocrine variables.

Affiliations: University of Wisconsin- Madison, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, University of New Orleans
Keywords: adolescence, stress, early experience, maltreatment, socio-emotional

Do chimps “mirror” others’ actions? A functional neuroimaging study of action execution and observation
Authors: Erin Hecht, Lauren Davis and Lisa Parr

Abstract: Social learning is a behavioral adaptation that varies across primate species. Humans have a broad and complex repertoire of socially transmitted behaviors. We can duplicate not only the result of an observed action, but also the specific kinematic method in which it is achieved. In contrast, macaques have a smaller, simpler range of socially transmitted behaviors and duplicate only observed actions’ results. These species differences in behavior are paralleled by species differences in brain activity. Both humans and macaques have a fronto-parietal action observation/execution matching system. In macaques, this system responds only to object-directed actions – those that involve results. In humans, it also responds to purely kinematic, non-object-directed actions. Thus species differences in social learning may be related to which aspects of observed actions are “mirrored” in the brain. Chimpanzee social learning is intermediate to macaques and humans, but their mirror system has not yet been studied. Like humans, they are profuse social learners, but like macaques, they duplicate mainly the results of observed actions. We used positron emission tomography (PET) to investigate how the chimpanzee brain mirrors observed actions. Four chimpanzees were given a 15 mCi oral dose of flourodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radio-labeled glucose analog. Each subject was scanned in four separate conditions. In the execution condition, the chimp performed an object-directed reach-to-grasp action with a small ball. These actions occurred inside a box so that the chimp could not see its own movement. In the transitive observation condition, the chimp observed the experimenter performing the same actions. In the intransitive observation condition, the chimp observed the experimenter miming this action without the ball. In the rest condition, the chimp rested quietly. After a 45 minute testing period, subjects were anesthetized and scanned. FDG has a half-life of 110 minutes and upon decay releases a positron which is detected by the scanner. Brighter areas in the scan thus represent greater FDG uptake and therefore greater metabolic activity during the testing period. In both execution and transitive observation, chimpanzees activated frontal and parietal regions homologous to macaque and human “mirror areas.” In intransitive observation, these activations were weaker and more variable across subjects. Results are related to behavioral data on each subject’s observational learning abilities, as well as to diffusion tensor imaging data on the white matter connectivity of each subject’s activated regions.

Affiliations: Neuroscience Graduate Program, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Keywords: social cognition/sensorimotor transformation: behavior and whole animal

Seeing is believing: Neural mechanisms of action perception are biased by team membership
Authors: Pascal Molenberghs, Veronika Halász, Jason Mattingley, Eric Vanman, and Ross Cunnington

Abstract: Group identification can lead to a biased view of the world in favor of “in-group” members. Studying the brain processes that underlie such in-group biases is important for a wider understanding of the potential influence of social factors on basic perceptual processes. In this study we used fMRI to investigate how people perceive the actions of in-group and out-group members, and how their biased view in favor of own-team members manifests itself in the brain. We divided participants into two teams and had them judge the relative speeds of hand actions performed by an in-group and an out-group member in a competitive situation. Participants judged hand actions performed by in-group members as being faster than those of out-group members, even when the two actions were performed at physically identical speeds. In an additional fMRI experiment we showed that, contrary to common belief, such skewed impressions arise from a subtle bias in perception and associated brain activity rather than decision making processes, and that this bias develops rapidly and involuntarily as a consequence of group affiliation. Our findings suggest that the neural mechanisms that underlie human perception are shaped by social context.

Affiliations: University of Queensland, Queensland Brain Institute; University of Queensland, School of Psychology
Keywords: fMRI, perception of action, group membership

Neural correlates of synchrony
Authors: George T. Monteleone, Elizabeth A. Majka, Haotian Zhou, J.S. Irick, Kimberly Quinn, Gun R. Semin, and John T. Cacioppo

Abstract: The human tendency to spontaneously synchronize with others has been extensively documented in various domains. In the present investigation, we experimentally investigated the neural correlates of perceived synchrony using a newly developed minimal synchrony paradigm that addresses several problems in the extant research, such as a confounding of synchrony and task performance. Specifically, individuals participated in a task similar to cell-phone texting but in which a simple beat (a single tap on the computer keyboard) replaced lexical content. The task was described to participants as “bexting,” short for beat-based texting. During the task, participants believed they were exchanging beats via computer with a human partner, unaware that the ostensible partner’s response was actually a computer-generated response manipulated to be synchronous or asynchronous. Following each condition, participants entered ratings of perceived synchrony with and affiliation for the partner. Sixteen healthy participants performed the task in a 3T Philips scanner. The experimental design was a Period (Bexting versus Rating) x 2 (Bexting Synchrony: high versus low) within-participants factorial design. In the bexting period, participants were instructed to tap beats at around 1 Hz on their own while viewing a pulsing icon representing each finger tap next to a second pulsing icon representing the ostensible partner’s response. In the rating period, participants rated how synchronous they regarded their partner, as well as a series of affiliation ratings felt towards the partner including rapport, liking, and desire to collaborate in the future. Bexting trials were 8s in duration and were blocked in sets of eight constituting each of four bexting rounds. The partner in half of the rounds produced beats that followed the participant by a mean lag of 120 or 220 ms with a temporal jitter of + 10 ms (high synchrony condition), and the partner in the other half of the blocks produced beats that followed the participant by a mean lag of 120 or 220 ms with a temporal jitter of + 110 ms added (low synchrony condition). For the fMRI analysis, 25 ROIs were identified based on prior research on social cognition including sub-regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus, and temporo-parietal junction. Participants’ behavioral ratings were correlated with the BOLD response within participants for each ROI. R-values were converted to Fisher’s Z, and Z-scores were subjected to a one-sample, two-tailed t-tests at the group level to determine which neural regions were positively or negatively correlated with behavioral ratings at the group level. Results demonstrated a significant positive correlation between BOLD response and both perceived synchrony ratings and affiliation ratings in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) during the bexting task. The vmPFC has been reported in prior research to be involved in self-relevant processing as well as theory of mind tasks involving reasoning about the thinking of others. The current study suggests that components of neural networks involved in social cognition are also incorporated in spontaneous perceptions of social synchrony even without any explicit context of observing others’ actions or thinking about oneself.

Affiliations: University of Chicago, University of Birmingham, Utrecht University
Keywords: social neuroscience, social cognition, social psychology, synchrony

Genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor is associated with alterations in perceived social isolation, social rejection and psychological stress reactivity: A population based study in older individuals
Authors: Greg J. Norman, Louise C. Hawkley, Aaron Ball, Maike Luhmann, Steve W. Cole, Gary G. Berntson, and John T. Cacioppo

Abstract: The neuropeptide oxytocin has been implicated in a wide range of social processes, such as pair bonding, social anxiety, and social judgment and decision making, that may contribute to normal adjustment and psychiatric states. Indeed, pharmacological administration of oxytocin has previously been associated with in-group trust and out-group hostility as well as diminished social threat perception and increased theory of mind. Consistent with the pharmacological manipulation studies mentioned above, recent work suggests that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the oxytocin receptor is associated with numerous social-affective processes. The present study sought to explore the effects of genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor (SNP; rs53576) on levels of perceived social isolation, sensitivity to social rejection and stress reactivity to psychological stress in a population based study of older individuals. Results revealed that males who were homozygous for the G allele showed the highest levels of perceived social isolation and showed significantly higher levels of sympathetic cardiac control following a psychological stressor. In contrast, females who were homozygous for the G allele were significantly more affected by social rejection, as measured by pre-post changes in negativity scores, and they showed significantly smaller parasympathetic withdrawal in response to psychological stress. These data, combined with the growing literature, suggest that variation in the oxytocin receptor system has important effects on social-affective processes related to social isolation, social rejection and stress reactivity.

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210
Keywords: oxytocin, social isolation

Mapping the mind: a constructionist view on how mental states emerge from the brain
Authors: Suzanne Oosterwijk, Kristen A. Lindquist, Eric Anderson, Rebecca Dautoff, Yoshiya Moriguchi, and Lisa Feldman Barrett

Abstract: Neuroimaging studies tend to organize around specific categories, such as memory, cognition and emotion. Psychological constructionism provides a different view on how the mind emerges from the brain and proposes that different mental events (such as emotions, feelings or thoughts) arise from the continuous interplay of the same ‘psychological ingredients’, including sensation, interoception, conceptual knowledge, executive attention, and language. In the present study we used fMRI to examine how the neural networks associated with these ingredients contribute to the experience of three different mental states; a bodily state, an emotion, or a thought. While in the scanner, participants listened to auditory scenarios describing negative events. Participants were instructed to experience these scenarios in four different ways; to focus on bodily sensations; to experience an emotion, or to think about the event in an objective way. Trials started with a cue, followed by the auditory scenario, followed by two consecutive phases. In the construction phase participants created the mental state in reaction to the scenario; in the elaboration phase participants prolonged their mental state by elaborating on its content. To investigate brain regions that are important for the generation of variable mental states, we performed conjunction analyses on the activation patterns for all three conditions during the construction and elaboration phase. Analyses demonstrate substantial overlap in the construction phase in regions associated with self-reflection (precuneus, temporal parietal junction), sensory/motor processing (precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, SMA, MCC), executive attention (dlPFC, frontal pole), language (pars triangularis, pars opercularis) and interoception (anterior insula). Conjunction during the elaboration phase showed similar regions, with in addition a large cluster in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex. To examine difference between body focus, emotion and thought, we calculated contrast maps focusing on the cortical surface of the whole brain. The most prominent results concerned the listening and elaboration phase. During listening, we found stronger activation in areas associated with self-reflection and conceptual knowledge (precuneus, temporal parietal junction, posterior cingulate gyrus), interoception (insula, anterior cingulate cortex) and sensation (precentral and postcentral gyrus) when participants where cued with body focus than when they were cued with emotion or thought. In contrast, emotion and thought demonstrated stronger activation in areas associated with auditory processing (planum temporale, superior temporal gyrus, Heschl’s gyrus). During the elaboration phase, we found stronger activation in areas associated with interoception (anterior insula) and sensory motor processes (precentral and postcentral gyrus) for body focus compared to emotion. Comparing thought to body focus and emotion, we found stronger activation in the default network (medial prefrontal cortex) and in areas associated with memory and conceptual processing (anterior temporal lobe, precuneus, parahippocampal gyrus). Overall, the results show that different mental states involve similar brain areas, associated with basic processes such as conceptualization, interoception, attention and language, albeit with relative differences in strength of activation. These results enrich our understanding of how different mental states emerge from the brain.

Affiliations: Northeastern University, Harvard University, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging; National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry
Keyword: mental states

Epigenetic modifications in the regulation of maternal experience in mice
Authors: Danielle S. Stolzenberg, Jacqueline Stevens, and Emilie F. Rissman

In numerous mammalian species experience interacting with offspring facilitates future maternal responding. In rodents, although parturitional hormones facilitate maternal responding, the facilitatory effects of maternal experience on subsequent maternal care depend on mother-infant interaction. We have recently found that experience with pups induces long-lasting effects on subsequent maternal care in spontaneously maternal C57BL/6J (B6) mice. Importantly, subtle differences in the amount of pup experience affect maternal care. For example, whereas 2 days of pup experience (2 hours/day) promoted retrieval behavior in the familiar home cage, at least 4 days of pup experience was necessary for females to retrieve pups on the novel T-maze. One mechanism through which experience-dependent behavioral modifications are regulated is epigenetic histone acetylation. Addition of acetyl groups by histone acetyltransferases (HATs) to the histone proteins around which DNA is wrapped increases the sensitivity of DNA to transcriptional regulation. Experience-dependent behavioral modifications have been linked to epigenetic modifications, however, how these mechanisms mediate experience-dependent effects on maternal care is untested. In support of the idea that experience-dependent effects on maternal responsiveness are mediated, at least in part, by epigenetic modifications, maternal experience-dependent increases in maternal care are associated with increased expression of the HAT CREB-binding protein (CBP). Further, brief periods of infant exposure that do not affect subsequent maternal care are potentiated by Sodium Butyrate (SB), a drug that enhances experience-induced histone acetylation. These data suggest that histone acetylation promotes maternal responsiveness via transcription of genes that increase maternal responsiveness. This work has been supported by NIH T32 training grant # DK007646 and R01 MH057759.

Affiliation: University of Virginia
Keywords: maternal behavior, HDAC inhibitor

Do you think it or feel it? Language and neural activity reflect individual differences in emotion processing
Authors: Xiao-Fei Yang, Darby E. Saxbe, Larissa A. Borofsky, Maeve C. Murphy, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Abstract: How do people describe their emotional states, and how does their word use reflect the underlying neural processing? This study explored the relationship between subjects’ word use when responding to emotional stories and their subsequent BOLD activity elicited by the same stories. We hypothesized that subjects’ use of cognitive words (words that reflect abstract thinking, such as “understand,” “know” and “wonder”) and body words (words that describe visceral sensations and body parts) would reflect two differing emotion processing strategies: one that relies more on abstract reasoning, and another that relies more on the feeling of the physical body during emotion. We expected these strategies to correlate with BOLD activity in brain regions involved in somatosensation, such as the somatosensory cortices (SI & SII), and self-reflection, such as the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) and the posteromedial cortices (PMC, including precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex, PCC). During an emotion induction interview that preceded the scanning session, 28 subjects discussed their feelings about true stories designed to elicit specific social emotions; these included stories describing self-sacrificing or heroic behavior (admiration for virtue; AV); and stories of social exclusion or isolation (compassion for social pain; CSP). During the scanning session, the subjects viewed brief reminders of the stories and were asked to become as emotional as possible (see Immordino-Yang et al., 2009). Transcripts of subjects’ verbal responses during the interviews were analyzed using the quantitative word counting software program LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count; Pennebaker, Booth and Francis, 2001) to generate word use frequencies for cognitive and body words. BOLD activity across the AV and CSP conditions was estimated for each individual and entered into group-level whole brain correlation analyses using cognitive and body word frequencies as regressors (SPM8). Consistent with our hypotheses, subjects who used more cognitive words tended to use fewer body words (Pearson’s rho = -.375, p < .025). Cognitive word use inversely correlated with activation in dMPFC, SI and SII, while body word use directly correlated with activations in dMPFC, posterior/inferior sector of precuneus/PCC and supramarginal gyrus (p < .005, cluster threshold of 10 voxels). The word use patterns and associated BOLD results support our hypothesis that individuals adopt different strategies during emotion processing: some engage in more cognitive, abstract reasoning, while others rely more on representing their physical body states.

Affiliations: Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California; Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California; Department of Psychology, University of Southern California; Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
Keywords: social emotion, language use, embodiment

Social dominance behavior and threat orienting in young adult monkeys is modulated by fluoxetine during early adolescence
Authors: Bo Zhang, Pamela Noble, Jeremy Kruger, Stephen Suomi, Daniel Pine, Eric Nelson

Abstract: Late childhood and early adolescence is a time when dramatic changes in social behavior occur. The peri-pubertal period is also a developmental period which sees a marked increase in the incidence of mood and anxiety disorders which are often associated with social behavior. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) such as fluoxetine are a common treatment for anxiety and mood disorders in both adults and children, and clinical trials have demonstrated their efficacy. However the effects of chronic SSRI administration on development have not been fully explored. In the present study, we assessed the effects of chronic fluoxetine treatment on social behavior of adolescent and young adult monkeys both during treatment and following a washout period. Thirty-two male rhesus monkeys were randomly assigned to either peer rearing (PR) or mother rearing (MR) conditions for the first 6 months of life. MR monkeys were reared with mothers and other peers in a large social group while PR monkeys were removed from their mothers soon after birth and reared with a small group of peers. At 6 months of life both groups had identical social housing conditions. Between 2-3 years of age half of each group was treated with fluoxetine 3mg/kg/day. Social behavior was assessed both during and after treatment with a series of exposures to a novel individual and varied rearing and treatment histories. Fluoxetine treatment significantly reduced the expression of dominance behaviors during treatment and this pattern persisted in the post-treatment period. In the post-treatment period, drug treated monkeys received more dominance displays by partner than untreated animals. Attention orienting to social threat stimuli was also assessed in the post-treatment period with eyetracking methodology, and fluoxetine was found to modulate threat orienting behavior as well. These results suggest that fluoxetine exposure during early adolescence may have long term consequences on threat orienting behavior and may influence the development of social behavior in rhesus monkeys.

Affiliations: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Keywords: ssri, social dominance, development