A meta-analysis of the anterior cingulate contribution to social pain

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Jan;10(1):19-27. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu110. Epub 2014 Aug 19.


Many functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have explored the neural correlates of social pain that results from social threat, exclusion, rejection, loss or negative evaluation. Although activations have consistently been reported within the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), it remains unclear which ACC subdivision is particularly involved. To provide a quantitative estimation of the specific involvement of ACC subdivisions in social pain, we conducted a voxel-based meta-analysis. The literature search identified 46 articles that included 940 subjects, the majority of which used the cyberball task. Significant likelihoods of activation were found in both the ventral and dorsal ACC for both social pain elicitation and self-reported distress during social pain. Self-reported distress involved more specifically the subgenual and pregenual ACC than social pain-related contrasts. The cyberball task involved the anterior midcingulate cortex to a lesser extent than other experimental tasks. During social pain, children exhibited subgenual activations to a greater extent than adults. Finally, the ventro-dorsal gradient of ACC activations in cyberball studies was related to the length of exclusion phases. The present meta-analysis contributes to a better understanding of the role of ACC subdivisions in social pain, and it could be of particular importance for guiding future studies of social pain and its neural underpinnings.

Keywords: anterior cingulate cortex; cyberball; functional magnetic resonance imaging; meta-analysis; social pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Social Environment*