Neural correlates of social exclusion across ages: A coordinate-based meta-analysis of functional MRI studies

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Abstract

Given the recent surge in functional neuroimaging studies on social exclusion, the current study employed activation likelihood estimation (ALE) based meta-analyses to identify brain regions that have consistently been implicated across different experimental paradigms used to investigate exclusion. We also examined the neural correlates underlying Cyberball, the most commonly used paradigm to study exclusion, as well as differences in exclusion-related activation between developing (7–18 years of age, from pre-adolescence up to late adolescence) and emerging adult (broadly defined as undergraduates, including late adolescence and young adulthood) samples. Results revealed involvement of the bilateral medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, right precuneus and left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex across the different paradigms used to examine social exclusion; similar activation patterns were identified when restricting the analysis to Cyberball studies. Investigations into age-related effects revealed that ventrolateral prefrontal activations identified in the full sample were driven by (i.e. present in) developmental samples, while medial prefrontal activations were driven by emerging adult samples. In addition, the right ventral striatum was implicated in exclusion, but only in developmental samples. Subtraction analysis revealed significantly greater activation likelihood in striatal and ventrolateral prefrontal clusters in the developmental samples as compared to emerging adults, though the opposite contrast failed to identify any significant regions. Findings integrate the knowledge accrued from functional neuroimaging studies on social exclusion to date, highlighting involvement of lateral prefrontal regions implicated in regulation and midline structures involved in social cognitive and self-evaluative processes across experimental paradigms and ages, as well as limbic structures in developing samples specifically.

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