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

Journal: Social neuroscience


High-level cognitive and emotional experience arises from brain activity, but the specific brain substrates for religious and spiritual euphoria remain unclear. We demonstrate using fMRI scans in 19 devout Mormons that a recognizable feeling central to their devotional practice was reproducibly associated with activation in nucleus accumbens, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and frontal attentional regions. Nucleus accumbens activation preceded peak spiritual feelings by 1-3 seconds and was replicated in 4 separate tasks. Attentional activation in the anterior cingulate and frontal eye fields was greater in the right hemisphere. The association of abstract ideas and brain reward circuitry may interact with frontal attentional and emotive salience processing, suggesting a mechanism whereby doctrinal concepts may come to be intrinsically rewarding and motivate behavior in religious individuals.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Basal ganglia, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex


Why do people tend to care for upholding principles of justice? This study examined the association between individual differences in the affective, motivational and cognitive components of empathy, sensitivity to justice, and psychopathy in participants (N 265) who were also asked to rate the permissibility of everyday moral situations that pit personal benefit against moral standards of justice. Counter to commonsense, emotional empathy was not associated with sensitivity to injustice for others. Rather, individual differences in cognitive empathy and empathic concern predicted sensitivity to justice for others, as well as the endorsement of moral rules. Psychopathy coldheartedness scores were inversely associated with motivation for justice. Moreover, hierarchical multiple linear regression analysis revealed that self-focused and other-focused orientations toward justice had opposing influences on the permissibility of moral judgments. High scores on psychopathy were associated with less moral condemnation of immoral behavior. Together, these results contribute to a better understanding of the information processing mechanisms underlying justice motivation, and may guide interventions designed to foster justice and moral behavior. In order to promote justice motivation, it may be more effective to encourage perspective taking and reasoning to induce concern for others than emphasizing emotional sharing with the misfortune of others.

Concepts: Psychology, Regression analysis, Linear regression, Econometrics, Empathy, Emotion, Morality, Forecasting


Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a perceptual condition in which specific visual and auditory stimuli consistently trigger tingling sensations on the scalp and neck, sometimes spreading to the back and limbs. These triggering stimuli are often social, almost intimate, in nature (e.g., hearing whispering, or watching someone brush her hair), and often elicit a calm and positive emotional state. Surprisingly, despite its prevalence in the general population, no published study has examined the neural underpinnings of ASMR. In the current study, the default mode network (DMN) of 11 individuals with ASMR was contrasted to that of 11 matched controls. The results indicated that the DMN of individuals with ASMR showed significantly less functional connectivity than that of controls. The DMN of individuals with ASMR also demonstrated increased connectivity between regions in the occipital, frontal, and temporal cortices, suggesting that ASMR was associated with a blending of multiple resting-state networks. This atypical functional connectivity likely influences the unique sensory-emotional experiences associated with ASMR.

Concepts: Psychology, Snake scales, Skull, Auditory system, Visual system, Sensory system, Sense, Emotion


Effective coaching and mentoring is crucial to the success of individuals and organizations, yet relatively little is known about its neural underpinnings. Coaching and mentoring to the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) emphasizes compassion for the individual’s hopes and dreams and has been shown to enhance a behavioral change. In contrast, coaching to the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), by focusing on externally defined criteria for success and the individual’s weaknesses in relation to them, does not show sustained change. We used fMRI to measure BOLD responses associated with these two coaching styles. We hypothesized that PEA coaching would be associated with increased global visual processing and with engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), while the NEA coaching would involve greater engagement of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Regions showing more activity in PEA conditions included the lateral occipital cortex, superior temporal cortex, medial parietal, subgenual cingulate, nucleus accumbens, and left lateral prefrontal cortex. We relate these activations to visioning, PNS activity, and positive affect. Regions showing more activity in NEA conditions included medial prefrontal regions and right lateral prefrontal cortex. We relate these activations to SNS activity, self-trait attribution and negative affect.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Parasympathetic nervous system


Recent neuroimaging research has revealed stronger empathic neural responses to same-race compared to other-race individuals. Is the in-group favouritism in empathic neural responses specific to race identification or a more general effect of social identification-including those based on religious/irreligious beliefs? The present study investigated whether and how intergroup relationships based on religious/irreligious identifications modulate empathic neural responses to others' pain expressions. We recorded event-related brain potentials from Chinese Christian and atheist participants while they perceived pain or neutral expressions of Chinese faces that were marked as being Christians or atheists. We found that both Christian and atheist participants showed stronger neural activity to pain (versus neutral) expressions at 132-168 ms and 200-320 ms over the frontal region to those with the same (versus different) religious/irreligious beliefs. The in-group favouritism in empathic neural responses was also evident in a later time window (412-612 ms) over the central/parietal regions in Christian but not in atheist participants. Our results indicate that the intergroup relationship based on shared beliefs, either religious or irreligious, can lead to in-group favouritism in empathy for others' suffering.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Religion, Event-related potential, Christianity, Atheism, Irreligion


Testosterone to cortisol (T/C) ratios could be associated with feelings and expression of anger as high testosterone and low cortisol levels indicate a predisposition to violence. The basal T/C ratio has recently been proposed as a marker for proneness to social aggression; so far, however, only its value as an indicator of state anger or violence has been investigated. Given this, we aimed to establish whether the T/C ratio response to acute stress was a specific psychobiological feature in individuals with a history of violence, namely, perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV). T/C ratio and anger responses were compared in men jailed for IPV and controls using the Trier Social Stress Test. IPV perpetrators had higher T/C ratios than controls, during the preparation period, and 15 and 30 minutes post-task. In IPV perpetrators, high T/C ratios were linked to better self-esteem and good mental health. An increase in anger may increase proneness to violence by altering hormones and, thereby, increasing T/C ratios. The basal T/C ratio together with acute stress responses and other indicators could serve as a marker to identify men at high risk of reacting violently to their partners.

Concepts: Domestic violence, Hormone, Testosterone, Cortisol, Aggression, Violence, Violence against women, Anger


It is now common practice, in digital communication, to use the character combination “:-)”, known as an emoticon, to indicate a smiling face. Although emoticons are readily interpreted as smiling faces, it is unclear whether emoticons trigger face-specific mechanisms or whether separate systems are utilized. A hallmark of face perception is the utilization of regions in the occipitotemporal cortex, which are sensitive to configural processing. We recorded the N170 event-related potential to investigate the way in which emoticons are perceived. Inverting faces produces a larger and later N170 while inverting objects which are perceived featurally rather than configurally reduces the amplitude of the N170. We presented 20 participants with images of upright and inverted faces, emoticons and meaningless strings of characters. Emoticons showed a large amplitude N170 when upright and a decrease in amplitude when inverted, the opposite pattern to that shown by faces. This indicates that when upright, emoticons are processed in occipitotemporal sites similarly to faces due to their familiar configuration. However, the characters which indicate the physiognomic features of emoticons are not recognized by the more laterally placed facial feature detection systems used in processing inverted faces.

Concepts: Cognition, Perception, Mind, Face perception, Face, Prosopagnosia, ASCII, Physiognomy


Recent research suggests that prosocial outcomes in sharing games arise from prefrontal control of self-maximizing impulses. We used continuous Theta Burst Stimulation (cTBS) to disrupt the functioning of two prefrontal areas, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC). We used cTBS in the right MT/V5, as a control area. We then tested subjects' prosocial inclinations with an unsupervised Dictator Game in which they allocated real money anonymously between themselves and low and high socioeconomic status (SES) players. cTBS over the two prefrontal sites made subjects more generous compared to MT/V5. More specifically, cTBS over DLPFC increased offers to high SES players, while cTBS over DMPFC caused increased offers to low SES players. These data, the first to demonstrate an effect of disruptive neuromodulation on costly sharing, suggest that DLPFC and MPFC exert inhibitory control over prosocial inclinations during costly sharing, though they may do so in different ways. DLPFC may implement contextual control, while DMPFC may implement a tonic form of control. This study demonstrates that humans' prepotent inclination is toward prosocial outcomes when cognitive control is reduced, even when prosocial decisions carry no strategic benefit and concerns for reputation are minimized.

Concepts: Brain, Socioeconomic status, Cerebrum, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Prefrontal cortex, Brodmann area, Working memory


Social reorientation from parents to same-age peers is normative in adolescence, but the neural correlates of youths' socioemotional processing of parents and peers have not been explored. In the current study, 22 adolescents (average age 16.98) underwent neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging) while viewing and rating emotions shown in brief video clips featuring themselves, their parents, or an unfamiliar peer. Viewing self vs. other and parents vs. the peer activated regions in the medial prefrontal cortex, replicating prior findings that this area responds to self-relevant stimuli, including familiar and not just similar others. Viewing the peer compared with parents elicited activation in posterior ‘mentalizing’ structures, the precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus and right temporoparietal junction, as well as the ventral striatum and bilateral amygdala and hippocampus. Relative activations in the PCC and precuneus to the peer vs. the parent were related both to reported risk-taking behavior and to affiliations with more risk-taking peers. The results suggest neural correlates of the adolescent social reorientation toward peers and away from parents that may be associated with adolescents' real-life risk-taking behaviors and social relationships.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Adolescence, Frontal lobe, Premotor cortex


Fathering plays an important role in infants' socioemotional and cognitive development. Previous studies have identified brain regions that are important for parenting behavior in human mothers. However, the neural basis of parenting in human fathers is largely unexplored. In the current longitudinal study, we investigated structural changes in fathers' brains during the first 4 months postpartum using voxel-based morphometry analysis. Biological fathers (n = 16) with full-term, healthy infants were scanned at 2-4 weeks postpartum (time 1) and at 12-16 weeks postpartum (time 2). Fathers exhibited increase in gray matter (GM) volume in several neural regions involved in parental motivation, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, striatum, and lateral prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, fathers exhibited decreases in GM volume in the orbitofrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and insula. The findings provide evidence for neural plasticity in fathers' brains. We also discuss the distinct patterns of associations among neural changes, postpartum mood symptoms, and parenting behaviors among fathers.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroanatomy, Brain, Human brain, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Father