A heightened sense of self-esteem is associated with a reduced risk for several types of affective and psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety and eating disorders. However, little is known about how brain systems integrate self-referential processing and positive evaluation to give rise to these feelings. To address this, we combined diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test how frontostriatal connectivity reflects long-term trait and short-term state aspects of self-esteem. Using DTI, we found individual variability in white matter structural integrity between the medial prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum was related to trait measures of self-esteem, reflecting long-term stability of self-esteem maintenance. Using fMRI, we found that functional connectivity of these regions during positive self-evaluation was related to current feelings of self-esteem, reflecting short-term state self-esteem. These results provide convergent anatomical and functional evidence that self-esteem is related to the connectivity of frontostriatal circuits and suggest that feelings of self-worth may emerge from neural systems integrating information about the self with positive affect and reward. This information could potentially inform the etiology of diminished self-esteem underlying multiple psychiatric conditions and inform future studies of evaluative self-referential processing.
Keywords: connectivity; diffusion tensor imaging; functional magnetic resonance imaging; medial prefrontal cortex; self-esteem; ventral striatum.
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