Functional Imaging of the Implicit Association of the Self With Life and Death

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2019 Dec;49(6):1600-1608. doi: 10.1111/sltb.12543. Epub 2019 Feb 13.


Objective: A critical need exists to identify objective markers of suicide ideation. One potential suicide risk marker is the Suicide Implicit Association Task (S-IAT), a behavioral task that uses differential reaction times to compare the implicit association between the self and death to the implicit association between the self and life. Individuals with a stronger association between the self and death on the S-IAT are more likely to attempt suicide in the future. To better understand the neural underpinnings of the implicit association between self and either life or death, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) version of the S-IAT was adapted and piloted in healthy volunteers.

Method: An fMRI version of the S-IAT was administered to 28 healthy volunteers (ages 18-65, 14F/14M).

Results: Behavioral results were comparable to those seen in non-scanner versions of the task. The task was associated with patterns of neural activation in areas relevant to emotional processing, specifically the insula and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

Conclusions: Performance on the S-IAT fMRI task may reflect scores obtained outside of the scanner. In future evaluations, this task could help assess whether individuals at increased risk of suicide display a different pattern of neural activation in response to self/death and self/life stimuli.

Trial registration: NCT00088699.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Assessment
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / prevention & control*
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Young Adult

Associated data