Interpersonal factors play significant roles in the onset, maintenance, and remission of psychiatric conditions. In the current major diagnostic classification systems for psychiatric disorders, some conditions are defined by the presence of impairments in social interaction or maintaining interpersonal relationships; these include autism, social phobia, and the personality disorders. Other psychopathologies confer significant difficulties in the social domain, including major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and psychotic disorders. Still other mental health conditions, including substance abuse and eating disorders, seem to be exacerbated or triggered in part by the influence of social peers. For each of these and other psychiatric conditions, the extent and quality of social support is a strong determinant of outcome such that high social support predicts symptom improvement and remission. Despite the central role of interpersonal factors in psychiatric illness, the neurobiology of social impairments remains largely unexplored, in part due to difficulties eliciting and quantifying interpersonal processes in a parametric manner. Recent advances in functional neuroimaging, combined with multiplayer exchange games drawn from behavioral economics, and computational/quantitative approaches more generally, provide a fitting paradigm within which to study interpersonal function and dysfunction in psychiatric conditions. In this review, we outline the importance of interpersonal factors in psychiatric illness and discuss ways in which neuroeconomics provides a tractable framework within which to examine the neurobiology of social dysfunction.
Copyright © 2012 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.