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The brain and the cardiovascular system influence each other during the processing of emotion. The study of the interactions of these systems during emotion regulation has been limited in human functional neuroimaging, despite its potential importance for physical health. We have previously reported that mental expertise in cultivation of compassion alters the activation of circuits linked with empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli. Guided by the finding that heart rate increases more during blocks of compassion meditation than neutral states, especially for experts, we examined the interaction between state (compassion vs. neutral) and group (novice, expert) on the relation between heart rate and BOLD signal during presentation of emotional sounds presented during each state. Our findings revealed that BOLD signal in the right middle insula showed a significant association with heart rate (HR) across state and group. This association was stronger in the left middle/posterior insula when experts were compared to novices. The positive coupling of HR and BOLD was higher within the compassion state than within the neutral state in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex for both groups, underlining the role of this region in the modulation of bodily arousal states. This state effect was stronger for experts than novices in somatosensory cortices and the right inferior parietal lobule (group by state interaction). These data confirm that compassion enhances the emotional and somatosensory brain representations of others' emotions, and that this effect is modulated by expertise. Future studies are needed to further investigate the impact of compassion training on these circuits.
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BACKGROUND: Studies using electroencephalogram (EEG) measures of activation asymmetry have reported differences in anterior asymmetry between depressed and nondepressed subjects. Several studies have suggested reciprocal relations between measures of anterior and posterior activation asymmetries. We hypothesized that depressed subjects would fail to show the normal activation of posterior right hemisphere regions in response to an appropriate cognitive challenge. METHODS: EEG activity was recorded from 11 depressed and 19 nondepressed subjects during the performance of psychometrically matched verbal (word finding) and spatial (dot localization) tasks. Band power was extracted from all epochs of artifact-free data and averaged within each condition. Task performance was also assessed. RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed a specific deficit in the performance of the spatial task, whereas no group differences were evident on verbal performance. In posterior scalp regions, nondepressed controls had a pattern of relative left-sided activation during the verbal task and relative right-sided activation during the spatial task. In contrast, depressed subjects failed to show activation in posterior right hemisphere regions during spatial task performance. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that deficits in right posterior functioning underlie the observed impairments in spatial functioning among depressed subjects.
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BACKGROUND: The frontal lobe has been crucially involved in the neurobiology of major depression, but inconsistencies among studies exist, in part due to a failure of considering modulatory variables such as symptom severity, comorbidity with anxiety, and distinct subtypes, as codeterminants for patterns of brain activation in depression. METHODS: Resting electroencephalogram was recorded in 38 unmedicated subjects with major depressive disorder and 18 normal comparison subjects, and analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computes the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard electroencephalogram frequency bands. Symptom severity and anxiety were measured via self-report and melancholic features via clinical interview. RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed more excitatory (beta3, 21.5-30.0 Hz) activity in the right superior and inferior frontal lobe (Brodmann's area 9/10/11) than comparison subjects. In melancholic subjects, this effect was particularly pronounced for severe depression, and right frontal activity correlated positively with anxiety. Depressed subjects showed posterior cingulate and precuneus hypoactivity. CONCLUSIONS: While confirming prior results implicating right frontal and posterior cingulate regions, this study highlights the importance of depression severity, anxiety, and melancholic features in patterns of brain activity accompanying depression.
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Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most commonly known genetic disorder associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Overlapping features in these populations include gaze aversion, communication deficits, and social withdrawal. Although the association between FXS and ASD has been well documented at the behavioral level, the underlying neural mechanisms associated with the social/emotional deficits in these groups remain unclear. We collected functional brain images and eye-gaze fixations from 9 individuals with FXS and 14 individuals with idiopathic ASD, as well as 15 typically developing (TD) individuals, while they performed a facial-emotion discrimination task. The FXS group showed a similar yet less aberrant pattern of gaze fixations compared with the ASD group. The FXS group also showed fusiform gyrus (FG) hypoactivation compared with the TD control group. Activation in FG was strongly and positively associated with average eye fixation and negatively associated with ASD characteristics in the FXS group. The FXS group displayed significantly greater activation than both the TD control and ASD groups in the left hippocampus (HIPP), left superior temporal gyrus (STG), right insula (INS), and left postcentral gyrus (PCG). These group differences in brain activation are important as they suggest unique underlying face-processing neural circuitry in FXS versus idiopathic ASD, largely supporting the hypothesis that ASD characteristics in FXS and idiopathic ASD reflect partially divergent impairments at the neural level, at least in FXS individuals without a co-morbid diagnosis of ASD.
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The experience of aversion is shaped by multiple physiological and psychological factors including one's expectations. Recent work has shown that expectancy manipulation can alter perceptions of aversive events and concomitant brain activation. Accruing evidence indicates a primary role of altered expectancies in the placebo effect. Here, we probed the mechanism by which expectation attenuates sensory taste transmission by examining how brain areas activated by misleading information during an expectancy period modulate insula and amygdala activation to a highly aversive bitter taste. In a rapid event-related fMRI design, we showed that activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to a misleading cue that the taste would be mildly aversive predicted decreases in insula and amygdala activation to the highly aversive taste. OFC and rACC activation to the misleading cue were also associated with less aversive ratings of that taste. Additional analyses revealed consistent results demonstrating functional connectivity among the OFC, rACC, and insula. Altering expectancies of upcoming aversive events are shown here to depend on robust functional associations among brain regions implicated in prior work on the placebo effect.
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Despite the call for multilevel observation of negative affect, including multiple physiological systems, too little empirical research has been conducted in infants and young children, and physiology-affect associations are not consistently reported. We examined changes in heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period in 24-month-olds across four increasingly challenging, emotion-eliciting tasks. We predicted that changes in cardiac reactivity would be systematically related to changes in negative affect. Results largely support the predictions with one important exception. With increasing distress across the tasks, HR increased and RSA decreased. However, no significant changes in PEP were observed. HR was associated with negative affect during all tasks, and changes in HR were related to changes in negative affect. PEP and negative affect were associated, but only marginally so. Within-subject analyses confirmed the predicted associations. Finally, the associations between physiology and negative affect were different for boys and girls. We discuss these results in the context of implications for future research on cardiac-affect associations in young children.
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Children with anxious temperament (AT) are particularly sensitive to new social experiences and have increased risk for developing anxiety and depression. The young rhesus monkey is optimal for studying the origin of human AT because it shares with humans the genetic, neural, and phenotypic underpinnings of complex social and emotional functioning. In vivo imaging in young monkeys demonstrated that central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) metabolism is relatively stable across development and predicts AT. Transcriptome-wide gene expression, which reflects combined genetic and environmental influences, was assessed within the Ce. Results support a maladaptive neurodevelopmental hypothesis linking decreased amygdala neuroplasticity to early-life dispositional anxiety. For example, high AT individuals had decreased mRNA expression of neurotrophic tyrosine kinase, receptor, type 3 (NTRK3). Moreover, variation in Ce NTRK3 expression was inversely correlated with Ce metabolism and other AT-substrates. These data suggest that altered amygdala neuroplasticity may play a role the early dispositional risk to develop anxiety and depression.
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The anterior medial prefrontal (AMPFC) and retrosplenial (RSC) cortices are active during self-referential decision-making tasks such as when participants appraise traits and abilities, or current affect. Other appraisal tasks requiring an evaluative decision or mental representation, such as theory of mind and perspective-taking tasks, also involve these regions. In many instances, these types of decisions involve a subjective opinion or preference, but also a degree of ambiguity in the decision, rather than a strictly veridical response. However, this ambiguity is generally not controlled for in studies that examine self-referential decision-making. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment with 17 healthy adults, we examined neural processes associated with subjective decision-making with and without an overt self-referential component. The task required subjective decisions about colors-regarding self-preference (internal subjective decision) or color similarity (external subjective decision) under conditions where there was no objectively correct response. Results indicated greater activation in the AMPFC, RSC, and caudate nucleus during internal subjective decision-making. The findings suggest that self-referential processing, rather than subjective judgments among ambiguous response alternatives, accounted for the AMPFC and RSC response.
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BACKGROUND: Asymmetric patterns of frontal brain activity and brain corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) systems have both been separately implicated in the processing of normal and abnormal emotional responses. Previous studies in rhesus monkeys demonstrated that individuals with extreme right frontal asymmetric brain electrical activity have high levels of trait-like fearful behavior and increased plasma cortisol concentrations. METHODS: In this study we assessed cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) CRH concentrations in monkeys with extreme left and extreme right frontal brain electrical activity. CSF was repeatedly collected at 4, 8, 14, 40, and 52 months of age. RESULTS: Monkeys with extreme right frontal brain activity had increased CSF CRH concentrations at all ages measured. In addition, individual differences in CSF CRH concentrations were stable from 4 to 52 months of age. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that, in primates, the fearful endophenotype is characterized by increased fearful behavior, a specific pattern of frontal electrical activity, increased pituitary-adrenal activity, and increased activity of brain CRH systems. Data from other preclinical studies suggests that the increased brain CRH activity may underlie the behavioral and physiological characteristics of fearful endophenotype.
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Some children show emotion that is not consistent with normative appraisal of the context and can therefore be defined as context inappropriate (CI). The authors used individual growth curve modeling and hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine whether CI anger predicts differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, as manifest in salivary cortisol measures. About 23% of the 360 children (ages 6-10 years, primarily 7-8) showed at least 1 expression of CI anger in situations designed to elicit positive affect. Expression of anger across 2 positive assessments was less common (around 4%). CI anger predicted the hypothesized lower levels of cortisol beyond that attributed to context appropriate anger. Boys' CI anger predicted lower morning cortisol and flatter slopes. Results suggest that this novel approach to studying children's emotion across varying contexts can provide insight into affective style.
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The cholinergic system has consistently been implicated in Pavlovian fear conditioning. Considerable work has been done to localize specific nicotinic receptor subtypes in the hippocampus and determine their functional importance; however, the specific function of many of these subtypes has yet to be determined. An alpha7 nicotinic antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA) (35 microg), and a broad spectrum non-alpha7 nicotinic antagonist mecamylamine (35 microg) was injected directly into the dorsal hippocampus or overlying cortex either 15 min pre-, 1 min post-, or 6h post-fear conditioning. One week after conditioning, retention of contextual and cue (tone) conditioning were assessed. A significant impairment in retention of contextual fear was observed when mecamylamine was injected 15 min pre- and 1 min post-conditioning. No significant impairment was observed when mecamylamine was injected 6h post-conditioning. Likewise, a significant impairment in retention of contextual fear was observed when MLA was injected 1 min post-conditioning; however, in contrast, MLA did not show any significant impairments when injected 15 min pre-conditioning, but did show a significant impairment when injected 6h post-conditioning. There were no significant impairments observed when either drug was injected into overlying cortex. No significant impairments were observed in cue conditioning for either drug. In general, specific temporal dynamics involved in nicotinic receptor function were found relative to time of receptor dysfunction. The results indicate that the greatest deficits in long-term retention (1 week) of contextual fear are produced by central infusion of MLA minutes to hours post-conditioning or mecamylamine within minutes of conditioning.
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Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
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Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
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The authors examined the time course of affective responding associated with different affective dimensions--anxious apprehension, anxious arousal, and anhedonic depression--using an emotion-modulated startle paradigm. Participants high on 1 of these 3 dimensions and nonsymptomatic control participants viewed a series of affective pictures with acoustic startle probes presented before, during, and after the stimuli. All groups exhibited startle potentiation during unpleasant pictures and in anticipation of both pleasant and unpleasant pictures. Compared with control participants, symptomatic participants exhibited sustained potentiation following the offset of unpleasant stimuli and a lack of blink attenuation during and following pleasant stimuli. Common and unique patterns of affective responses in the 3 types of mood symptoms are discussed.
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Functional neuroimaging research has demonstrated that retrieving information about object-associated colors activates the left fusiform gyrus in posterior temporal cortex. Although regions near the fusiform have previously been implicated in color perception, it remains unclear whether color knowledge retrieval actually activates the color perception system. Evidence to this effect would be particularly strong if color perception cortex was activated by color knowledge retrieval triggered strictly with linguistic stimuli. To address this question, subjects performed two tasks while undergoing fMRI. First, subjects performed a property verification task using only words to assess conceptual knowledge. On each trial, subjects verified whether a named color or motor property was true of a named object (e.g., TAXI-yellow, HAIR-combed). Next, subjects performed a color perception task. A region of the left fusiform gyrus that was highly responsive during color perception also showed greater activity for retrieving color than motor property knowledge. These data provide the first evidence for a direct overlap in the neural bases of color perception and stored information about object-associated color, and they significantly add to accumulating evidence that conceptual knowledge is grounded in the brain's modality-specific systems.
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The study of emotional communication has focused predominantly on the facial and vocal channels but has ignored the tactile channel. Participants in the current study were allowed to touch an unacquainted partner on the whole body to communicate distinct emotions. Of interest was how accurately the person being touched decoded the intended emotions without seeing the tactile stimulation. The data indicated that anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy were decoded at greater than chance levels, as well as happiness and sadness, 2 emotions that have not been shown to be communicated by touch to date. Moreover, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. The findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to the study of emotion-related communication.
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Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.

Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.
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We investigated the reliability and validity of a video-based method of measuring the magnitude of children's emotion-modulated startle response when electromyographic (EMG) measurement is not feasible. Thirty-one children between the ages of 4 and 7 years were videotaped while watching short video clips designed to elicit happiness or fear. Embedded in the audio track of the video clips were acoustic startle probes. A coding system was developed to quantify from the video record the strength of the eye-blink startle response to the probes. EMG measurement of the eye blink was obtained simultaneously. Intercoder reliability for the video coding was high (Cohen's kappa = .90). The average within-subjects probe-by-probe correlation between the EMG- and video-based methods was .84. Group-level correlations between the methods were also strong, and there was some evidence of emotion modulation of the startle response with both the EMG- and the video-derived data. Although the video method cannot be used to assess the latency, probability, or duration of startle blinks, the findings indicate that it can serve as a valid proxy of EMG in the assessment of the magnitude of emotion-modulated startle in studies of children conducted outside of a laboratory setting, where traditional psychophysiological methods are not feasible.
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What is compassion? And how did it evolve? In this review, we integrate 3 evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct affective experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Our empirical review reveals compassion to have distinct appraisal processes attuned to undeserved suffering; distinct signaling behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. We conclude by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.
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Three experiments were performed testing the effects of a variety of impedance cardiograph electrode types and recording arrangements on recorded electroencephalography (EEG) using either a monopolar single-ear reference or a physically linked ears reference. EEG was recorded either alone or concurrently with an impedance cardiograph. When the cardiograph was recorded using a spot electrode for the top current-inducing electrode, there was an overall decrease in power density of the EEG, and this effect was dependent on the location of the recording electrode. This effect was diminished when the top cardiograph spot electrode was replaced by a mylar-coated neck band electrode and EEG was recorded using a monopolar, single-ear reference. However, there tended to be an overall increase in log power density of the EEG in each frequency band below 60 Hz when less technologically advanced EEG amplifiers were used. This effect was diminished if the EEG was recorded using a physically linked ears reference. Recommendations for the concurrent recording of EEG and impedance cardiography are discussed.
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Greater levels of conscientiousness have been associated with lower levels of negative affect. We focus on one mechanism through which conscientiousness may decrease negative affect: effective emotion regulation, as reflected by greater recovery from negative stimuli. In 273 adults who were 35-85 years old, we collected self-report measures of personality including conscientiousness and its self-control facet, followed on average 2 years later by psychophysiological measures of emotional reactivity and recovery. Among middle-aged adults (35-65 years old), the measures of conscientiousness and self-control predicted greater recovery from, but not reactivity to, negative emotional stimuli. The effect of conscientiousness and self-control on recovery was not driven by other personality variables or by greater task adherence on the part of high conscientiousness individuals. In addition, the effect was specific to negative emotional stimuli and did not hold for neutral or positive emotional stimuli.
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Positive emotions promote adjustment to aversive life events. However, evolutionary theory and empirical research on trauma disclosure suggest that in the context of stigmatized events, expressing positive emotions might incur social costs. To test this thesis, the authors coded genuine (Duchenne) smiling and laughter and also non-Duchenne smiling from videotapes of late-adolescent and young adult women, approximately half with documented histories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), as they described the most distressing event of their lives. Consistent with previous studies, genuine positive emotional expression was generally associated with better social adjustment two years later. However, as anticipated, CSA survivors who expressed positive emotion in the context of describing a past CSA experience had poorer long-term social adjustment, whereas CSA survivors who expressed positive emotion while describing a nonabuse experience had improved social adjustment. These findings suggest that the benefits of positive emotional expression may often be context specific.
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The putative association between fear-related behaviors and peripheral sympathetic and neuroendocrine reactivity has not been replicated consistently. This inconsistency was addressed in a reexamination of the characterization of children with extreme fearful reactions by focusing on the match between distress behaviors and the eliciting context. Eighty 24-month-old children were observed in 4 mildly threatening contexts, and the relations among different measures of fear-related behaviors, reactive and basal cortisol levels, and baseline cardiac measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period (PEP) were examined. The hypothesis that only behaviors under the less threatening context would be associated with higher cortisol and sympathetic cardiac activity was confirmed; only task-specific freezing behavior predicted higher reactive and basal cortisol levels and resting PEP measured 1 week later. Implications for the conceptualization of dysregulated fear behaviors in the classification of extremely fearful children are discussed.
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Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept-scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.
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