Chemosensory anxiety cues moderate the experience of social exclusion - An fMRI investigation with Cyberball

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Abstract

© 2015 Wudarczyk, Kohn, Bergs, Gur, Turetsky, Schneider and Habel. Recent evidence suggests that the experience of stress can be communicated between individuals via chemosensory cues. Little is known, however, about the impact of these cues on neurophysiological responses during a socially threatening situation. In the current investigation we implemented a widely used paradigm to study social exclusion-Cyberball-to examine whether chemosensory cues signaling anxiety modulate the neuronal effects of ostracism. In a double-blind, within-subjects design, 24 healthy, normosmic participants were presented with chemosensory cues of anxiety (or control samples) and completed the Cyberball task while in a 3T fMRI scanner. Axillary sweat collected from male students awaiting an oral examination served as the anxiety cues while the chemosensory control stimuli consisted of sweat collected from the same individuals participating in an ergometer training session. The neuroimaging data revealed that under the control chemosensory condition, exclusion from Cyberball was associated with significantly higher orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex activity, which is consistent with previous studies in the field. However, when participants were primed with the anxiety sweat, the activity in these regions was not observed. Further, under exposure to anxiety cues during ostracism the participants showed deactivations in brain regions involved in memory (hippocampus), social cognition (middle temporal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus) and processing of salience (inferior frontal gyrus). These results suggest that successful communication of anxiety via the chemosensory domain may moderate the experience of social exclusion. It is possible that the anxiety signals make it easier for the individuals to detach from the group, pointing to the communicative role of chemosensory anxiety cues in enhancing adjustment mechanisms in light of a distressing situation.

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Wudarczyk, O. A., Kohn, N., Bergs, R., Gur, R. E., Turetsky, B., Schneider, F., & Habel, U. (2015). Chemosensory anxiety cues moderate the experience of social exclusion - An fMRI investigation with Cyberball. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(OCT). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01475

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