Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Social cognitive and affective neuroscience


Dogs are hypersocial with humans, and their integration into human social ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding. However, the proximal neural mechanisms driving dog-human social interaction are unknown. We used fMRI in 15 awake dogs to probe the neural basis for their preferences for social interaction and food reward. In a first experiment, we used the ventral caudate as a measure of intrinsic reward value and compared activation to conditioned stimuli that predicted food, praise, or nothing. Relative to the control stimulus, the caudate was significantly more active to the reward-predicting stimuli and showed roughly equal or greater activation to praise versus food in 13 of 15 dogs. To confirm that these differences were driven by the intrinsic value of social praise, we performed a second imaging experiment in which the praise was withheld on a subset of trials. The difference in caudate activation to the receipt of praise, relative to its withholding, was strongly correlated with the differential activation to the conditioned stimuli in the first experiment. In a third experiment, we performed an out-of-scanner choice task in which the dog repeatedly selected food or owner in a Y-maze. The relative caudate activation to food- and praise-predicting stimuli in Experiment 1 was a strong predictor of each dog’s sequence of choices in the Y-maze. Analogous to similar neuroimaging studies of individual differences in human social reward, our findings demonstrate a neural mechanism for preference in domestic dogs that is stable within, but variable between, individuals. Moreover, the individual differences in the caudate responses indicate the potentially higher value of social than food reward for some dogs and may help to explain the apparent efficacy of social interaction in dog training.

Concepts: Predation, Dog health, Classical conditioning, Microeconomics, Sociology, Choice, Dog, Motivation


Acetaminophen, an analgesic and antipyretic available over-the-counter and used in over 600 medicines, is one of the most consumed drugs in the USA. Recent research has suggested that acetaminophen’s effects extend to the blunting of negative as well as positive affect. Because affect is a determinant of risk perception and risk taking, we tested the hypothesis that acute acetaminophen consumption (1000 mg) could influence these important judgments and decisions. In three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, healthy young adults completed a laboratory measure of risk taking (Balloon Analog Risk Task) and in Studies 1 and 2 completed self-report measures of risk perception. Across all studies (total n = 545), acetaminophen increased risk-taking behavior. On the more affectively stimulating risk perception measure used in Study 2, acetaminophen reduced self-reported perceived risk and this reduction statistically mediated increased risk-taking behavior. These results indicate that acetaminophen can increase risk taking, which may be due to reductions in risk perceptions, particularly those that are highly affect laden.


Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others' pain shares some common psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain. Support for this perspective has largely relied on functional neuroimaging evidence of an overlap between activations during the experience of physical pain and empathy for other people’s pain. Here, we extend the functional overlap perspective to the neurochemical level and test whether a common physical painkiller, acetaminophen (paracetamol), can reduce empathy for another’s pain. In two double-blind placebo-controlled experiments, participants rated perceived pain, personal distress and empathic concern in response to reading scenarios about another’s physical or social pain, witnessing ostracism in the lab, or visualizing another study participant receiving painful noise blasts. As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others' pain. Acetaminophen also reduced the unpleasantness of noise blasts delivered to the participant, which mediated acetaminophen’s effects on empathy. Together, these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy. Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, these drug-induced reductions in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen, which is taken by almost a quarter of adults in the United States each week.

Concepts: Empathic concern, Opioid, Suffering, Sympathy, Social psychology, Pain, Psychology, Emotion


Mindfulness training ameliorates clinical and self-report measures of depression and chronic pain, but its use as an emotion regulation strategy - in individuals who do not meditate - remains understudied. As such, whether it (a) down-regulates early affective brain processes and (b) depends on cognitive control systems remains unclear. We exposed meditation-naïve participants to two kinds of stimuli: negative vs. neutral images and painful vs. warm temperatures. On alternating blocks, we asked participants to either react naturally or exercise mindful-acceptance. Emotion regulation using mindful-acceptance was associated with reductions in reported pain and negative affect, reduced amygdala responses to negative images, and reduced heat-evoked responses in medial and lateral pain systems. Critically, mindful-acceptance significantly reduced activity in a distributed, a-priori neurologic signature that is sensitive and specific to experimentally-induced pain. In addition, these changes occurred in the absence of detectable increases in prefrontal control systems. The findings support the idea that momentary mindful-acceptance regulates emotional intensity by changing initial appraisals of the affective significance of stimuli, which has consequences for clinical treatment of pain and emotion.


The five-factor model (FFM) is a widely used taxonomy of human personality; yet its neuro anatomical basis remains unclear. This is partly because past associations between gray-matter volume and FFM were driven by different surface-based morphometry (SBM) indices (i.e. cortical thickness, surface area, cortical folding or any combination of them). To overcome this limitation, we used Free-Surfer to study how variability in SBM measures was related to the FFM in n = 507 participants from the Human Connectome Project.Neuroticism was associated with thicker cortex and smaller area and folding in prefrontal-temporal regions. Extraversion was linked to thicker pre-cuneus and smaller superior temporal cortex area. Openness was linked to thinner cortex and greater area and folding in prefrontal-parietal regions. Agreeableness was correlated to thinner prefrontal cortex and smaller fusiform gyrus area. Conscientiousness was associated with thicker cortex and smaller area and folding in prefrontal regions. These findings demonstrate that anatomical variability in prefrontal cortices is linked to individual differences in the socio-cognitive dispositions described by the FFM. Cortical thickness and surface area/folding were inversely related each others as a function of different FFM traits (neuroticism, extraversion and consciousness vs openness), which may reflect brain maturational effects that predispose or protect against psychiatric disorders.

Concepts: Prefrontal cortex, Personality psychology, Fusiform gyrus, Big Five personality traits, Brain, Temporal lobe, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum


A large body of research indicates that psychopathic individuals lie chronically and show little remorse or anxiety. Yet, little is known about the neurobiological substrates of dishonesty in psychopathy. In a sample of incarcerated individuals (N = 67), we tested the hypothesis that psychopathic individuals show reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) when confronted with an opportunity for dishonest gain, reflecting dishonest behavior that is relatively unhindered by response conflict. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), incarcerated offenders with different levels of psychopathy performed an incentivized prediction task wherein they were given real and repeated opportunities for dishonest gain. We found that while incarcerated offenders showed a high rate of cheating, levels of psychopathic traits did not influence the frequency of dishonesty. Higher psychopathy scores predicted decreased activity in the ACC during dishonest decision-making. Further analysis revealed that the ACC was functionally connected to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and that ACC activity mediated the relationship between psychopathic traits and reduced reaction times (RTs) for dishonest behavior. These findings suggest that psychopathic individuals behave dishonestly with relatively low levels of response conflict and that the ACC may play a critical role in this pattern of behavior.


Next to social problems, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often report severe sensory difficulties. Altered processing of touch is however a stronger mediator of social symptoms' severity than altered processing of for instance vision or audition. Why is this the case? We reasoned that sensory difficulties may be linked to social problems in ASD through insufficient self-other distinction centred on touch. We investigated by means of EEG whether the brain of adults with ASD adequately signals when a tactile consequence of an observed action does not match own touch, as compared to the brain of matched controls. We employed the action-based somatosensory congruency paradigm (Deschrijver et al., 2015): Participants observed a human or wooden hand touching a surface, combined with a tap-like tactile sensation that either matched or mismatched the tactile consequence of the observed movement. The ASD group showed a diminished congruency effect for human hands only in the P3-complex, suggesting difficulties with signalling observed action-based touch of others that does not match own touch experiences. Crucially, this effect reliably correlated with self- reported social and sensory everyday difficulties in ASD. The findings might denote a novel theoretical link between sensory and social impairments in the autism spectrum.

Concepts: Somatic sensory system, Autism spectrum, Asperger syndrome, Sense, Proprioception, Sensory system, Autism, Somatosensory system


Humans uniquely appreciate aesthetics, experiencing pleasurable responses to complex stimuli that confer no clear intrinsic value for survival. However, substantial variability exists in the frequency and specificity of aesthetic responses. While pleasure from aesthetics is attributed to the neural circuitry for reward, what accounts for individual differences in aesthetic reward sensitivity remains unclear. Using a combination of survey data, behavioral and psychophysiological measures and diffusion tensor imaging, we found that white matter connectivity between sensory processing areas in the superior temporal gyrus and emotional and social processing areas in the insula and medial prefrontal cortex explains individual differences in reward sensitivity to music. Our findings provide the first evidence for a neural basis of individual differences in sensory access to the reward system, and suggest that social-emotional communication through the auditory channel may offer an evolutionary basis for music making as an aesthetically rewarding function in humans.

Concepts: Dopamine, Psychology, Premotor cortex, Limbic system, Value theory, Art, Brain, Cerebrum


Social support is crucial for psychological and physical well-being. Yet, in experimental and clinical pain research, the presence of others has been found to both attenuate and intensify pain. To investigate the factors underlying these mixed effects, we administered noxious laser stimuli to 39 healthy women while their romantic partner was present or absent, and measured pain ratings and laser-evoked potentials to assess the effects of partner presence on subjective pain experience and underlying neural processes. Further, we examined whether individual differences in adult attachment style, alone or in interaction with the partner’s level of attentional focus (manipulated to be either on or away from the participant) might modulate these effects. We found that the effects of partner presence versus absence on pain-related measures depended on adult attachment style but not partner attentional focus. The higher participants' attachment avoidance, the higher pain ratings and N2 and P2 local peak amplitudes were in the presence compared to the absence of the romantic partner. As laser-evoked potentials are thought to reflect activity relating to the salience of events, our data suggest that partner presence may influence the perceived salience of events threatening the body, particularly in individuals who tend to mistrust others.

Concepts: Attachment theory, Developmental psychology, Absenteeism, Nervous system, Family therapy, Mind, Psychology, Attachment in adults


Salient vocalizations, especially aggressive voices, are believed to attract attention due to an automatic threat detection system. However, studies assessing the temporal dynamics of auditory spatial attention to aggressive voices are missing. Using event-related potential markers of auditory spatial attention (N2 ac and LPCpc), we show that attentional processing of threatening vocal signals is enhanced at two different stages of auditory processing. As early as 200 ms post stimulus onset, attentional orienting/engagement is enhanced for threatening as compared to happy vocal signals. Subsequently, as early as 400 ms post stimulus onset, the reorienting of auditory attention to the center of the screen (or disengagement from the target) is enhanced. This latter effect is consistent with the need to optimize perception by balancing the intake of stimulation from left and right auditory space. Our results extend the scope of theories from the visual to the auditory modality by showing that threatening stimuli also bias early spatial attention in the auditory modality. Attentional enhancement was only present in female and not in male participants.