Cognitive neuroscience of social emotions and implications for psychopathology: Examining embarrassment, guilt, envy, and schadenfreude

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Abstract

Social emotions are affective states elicited during social interactions and integral for promoting socially appropriate behaviors and discouraging socially inappropriate ones. Social emotion-processing deficits significantly impair interpersonal relationships, and play distinct roles in the manifestation and maintenance of clinical symptomatology. Elucidating the neural correlates of discrete social emotions can serve as a window to better understanding and treating neuropsychiatric disorders. Moral cognition and social emotion-processing broadly recruit a fronto–temporo–subcortical network, supporting empathy, perspective-taking, self-processing, and reward-processing. The present review specifically examines the neural correlates of embarrassment, guilt, envy, and schadenfreude. Embarrassment and guilt are self-conscious emotions, evoked during negative evaluation following norm violations and supported by a fronto–temporo–posterior network. Embarrassment is evoked by social transgressions and recruits greater anterior temporal regions, representing conceptual social knowledge. Guilt is evoked by moral transgressions and recruits greater prefrontal regions, representing perspective-taking and behavioral change demands. Envy and schadenfreude are fortune-of-other emotions, evoked during social comparison and supported by a prefronto–striatal network. Envy represents displeasure in others' fortunes, and recruits increased dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, representing cognitive dissonance, and decreased reward-related striatal regions. Schadenfreude represents pleasure in others' misfortunes, and recruits reduced empathy-related insular regions and increased reward-related striatal regions. Implications for psychopathology and treatment design are discussed.

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