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, 9 (10), 1632-44

Psychological, Endocrine and Neural Responses to Social Evaluation in Subclinical Depression

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Psychological, Endocrine and Neural Responses to Social Evaluation in Subclinical Depression

Katarina Dedovic et al. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci.

Abstract

This study aimed to identify vulnerability patterns in psychological, physiological and neural responses to mild psychosocial challenge in a population that is at a direct risk of developing depression, but who has not as yet succumbed to the full clinical syndrome. A group of healthy and a group of subclinically depressed participants underwent a modified Montreal Imaging Stress task (MIST), a mild neuroimaging psychosocial task and completed state self-esteem and mood measures. Cortisol levels were assessed throughout the session. All participants showed a decrease in performance self-esteem levels following the MIST. Yet, the decline in performance self-esteem levels was associated with increased levels of anxiety and confusion in the healthy group, but increased levels of depression in the subclinical group, following the MIST. The subclinical group showed overall lower cortisol levels compared with the healthy group. The degree of change in activity in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex in response to negative evaluation was associated with increased levels of depression in the whole sample. Findings suggest that even in response to a mild psychosocial challenge, those individuals vulnerable to depression already show important maladaptive response patterns at psychological and neural levels. The findings point to important targets for future interventions.

Keywords: cortisol; social evaluation; subclinical depression; subgenual anterior cingulate cortex; vulnerability.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
The modified MIST user interface. (A) The experimental/stress (exp_S) condition includes performing challenging mental arithmetic in social evaluative setting: a performance color bar indicating the subject’s performance (bottom arrow) in comparison to a mock ‘average’ user (top arrow), a time advance bar indicating the amount of time participants had to complete the task, and a performance feedback window, emphasizing that the subject’s poor performance was recorded. (B) The experimental/non-stress (exp_NS) condition contains mental arithmetic task of same difficulty, and same time limit, but social evaluative components are removed.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Impact of social evaluative threat on performance self-esteem and its effect on mood following the MIST. (A) Significant decrease in performance self-esteem observed in the whole sample following the MIST. (B) Change in performance self-esteem associated confusion levels following the MIST in the healthy group. (C) Change in performance self-esteem associated with anxiety levels following the MIST in the healthy group. (D) Change in performance self-esteem associated with depression levels following the MIST in the subclinical group. **P < 0.001.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Group differences with respect to cortisol response to the MIST. The subclinical group has an overall lower levels of cortisol compared with the healthy group during and following the MIST. However, neither group shows a significant cortisol response.
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Positive association between changes in the sgACC in response to social evaluation and depression levels in the whole sample. (A) ROI analyses of whole-brain correlational analyses revealed a positive correlation between changes in response to negative feedback in sgACC and levels of depression across the whole sample. Findings are thresholded at intensity threshold of P < 0.005, and extent threshold of 20 voxels. (B) Parameter estimates were extracted for the significant peak voxel (MNI coordinates x = 8, y = 26, z = −4) and entered into a graphing program to create graphs for illustrative purposes only.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
Changes in brain activity in response to social evaluation in healthy and subclinical groups and healthy > subclinical direct contrast. (A) Whole-brain analyses in the healthy group for ExpS > ExpNS contrast revealed significant increase in precuneus (pCu), posterior cingulate (pCC), thalamus (Th) and posterior middle temporal gyrus (pmTG) and decreases in sgACC. (B) Whole-brain analyses in the subclinical group for ExpS > ExpNS contrast revealed significant increase in pCu and decreases in sgACC. (C) Direct comparison between the groups revealed primarily greater activations in healthy group in regions such as pCu, temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and insula (In). All clusters are thresholded at intensity threshold of P < 0.005, extent threshold of 20 voxels. ExpS, experimental stress; ExpNS, experimental non-stress.

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