Criticism hurts everybody, praise only some: Common and specific neural responses to approving and disapproving social-evaluative videos

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Social evaluation is a ubiquitous feature of daily interpersonal interactions and can produce strong positive or negative emotional reactions. While previous research has highlighted neural correlates of static or dynamic facial expressions, little is known about neural processing of more naturalistic social interaction simulations or the modulating role of inter-individual differences such as trait fear of negative/positive evaluation. The present fMRI study investigated neural activity of 37 (21 female) healthy participants while watching videos of posers expressing a range of positive, negative, and neutral statements tapping into several basic and social emotions. Unpleasantness ratings linearly increased in response to positive to neutral to negative videos whereas arousal ratings were elevated in both emotional video conditions. At the whole brain level, medial prefrontal and rostral anterior cingulate cortex activated strongly in both emotional conditions which may be attributed to the cognitive processing demands of responding to complex social evaluation. Region of interest analysis for basic emotion processing areas revealed enhanced amygdala activation in both emotional conditions, whereas anterior and posterior insula showed stronger activity during negative evaluations only. Individuals with high fear of positive evaluation were characterized by increased posterior insula activity during positive videos, suggesting heightened interoception. Taken together, these results replicate and extend studies that used facial expression stimuli and reveal neurobiological systems involved in processing of more complex social-evaluative videos. Results also point to vulnerability factors for social-interaction related psychopathologies.

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