Past research suggests that feeling understood enhances both personal and social well-being. However, little research has examined the neurobiological bases of feeling understood and not understood. We addressed these gaps by experimentally inducing felt understanding and not understanding as participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results demonstrated that feeling understood activated neural regions previously associated with reward and social connection (i.e. ventral striatum and middle insula), while not feeling understood activated neural regions previously associated with negative affect (i.e. anterior insula). Both feeling understood and not feeling understood activated different components of the mentalizing system (feeling understood: precuneus and temporoparietal junction; not feeling understood: dorsomedial prefrontal cortex). Neural responses were associated with subsequent feelings of social connection and disconnection and were modulated by individual differences in rejection sensitivity. Thus, this study provides insight into the psychological processes underlying feeling understood (or not) and may suggest new avenues for targeted interventions that amplify the benefits of feeling understood or buffer individuals from the harmful consequences of not feeling understood.
Keywords: fMRI; feeling understood; rejection sensitivity; social reward.
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