Dissociating affective evaluation and social cognitive processes in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2007 Dec;7(4):337-46. doi: 10.3758/cabn.7.4.337.


In recent studies, various regions of the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) have been implicated in at least two potentially different mental functions: reasoning about the minds of other people (social cognition) and processing reward related information (affective evaluation). In this study, we test whether the activation in a specific area of the vmPFC, the para-anterior cingulate cortex (PACC), correlates with the reward value of stimuli in general or is specifically associated with social cognition. Participants performed a time estimation task with trial-to-trial feedback in which reward and socialcontext were manipulated separately. Reward was manipulated by giving either positive or negative feedback in the form of small squirts of fluid delivered orally. Social context was manipulated by instructing participants that positive and negative feedback was determined by another person or a computer. The data demonstrate a main effect of feedback, but not social context, in the PACC, suggesting that this area of the vmPFC serves a general function in evaluating and/or representing reward value. In addition, activity in a more anterior subregion of the vmPFC demonstrated reward-related sensitivity only in the social context. Another area that showed a similar interaction was the subgenual cingulate, but this region was only sensitive to negative feedback in the social condition. These findings suggest that, within the vmPFC, the PACC subserves primarily an affective function, whereas in other regions social context can modulate affective responses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward
  • Social Perception*