Individual differences in neural responses to social rejection: the joint effect of self-esteem and attentional control

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Abstract

Individuals with low self-esteem have been found to react more negatively to signs of interpersonal rejection than those with high self-esteem. However, previous research has found that individual differences in attentional control can attenuate negative reactions to social rejection among vulnerable, low self-esteem individuals. The current fMRI study sought to elucidate the neurobiological substrate of this buffering effect. We hypothesized and found that while looking at scenes of social rejection (vs negative scenes) low self-esteem high attentional control individuals engaged the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the brain associated with emotional control, more than their low self-esteem low attentional control peers. Furthermore, we found that low self-esteem high attentional control individuals evaluated social rejection as less arousing and less rejecting in a separate behavioral task. Importantly, activation in the rACC fully mediated the relationship between the interaction of self-esteem and attentional control and emotional evaluations, suggesting that the rACC activation underlies the buffering effects of attentional control. Results are discussed in terms of individual differences in emotional vulnerability and protection and by highlighting the role of rACC in emotion regulation.

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