Social anxiety modulates amygdala activation during social conditioning

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Abstract

Aversive social learning experiences might play a significant role in the aetiology of social anxiety disorder. Therefore, we investigated emotional learning and unlearning processes in healthy humans using a social conditioning paradigm. Forty-nine healthy subjects participated in a 2-day fMRI differential conditioning protocol. Acquisition and extinction were conducted on Day 1 and extinction recall on Day 2. BOLD responses, ratings and skin conductance responses were collected. Our data indicate successful conditioning and extinction on the neural and subjective level. As a main result, we observed a positive correlation of social anxiety and conditioning responses on the subjective level (valence and fear) as well as on the neural level with significant CS+/CS− differentiation in the left amygdala and the left hippocampus. Further, significant CS+/CS− differentiation in the left amygdala was found during extinction and was associated with lower scores in social anxiety. During extinction recall, we found a tendentially negative correlation of social anxiety and CS+/CS− differentiation in the vmPFC. In sum, we were able to show that social anxiety is related to conditionability with socially threatening stimuli. This could point to an important aspect in the aetiology of social anxiety disorder.

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