Neural evidence for an association between social proficiency and sensitivity to social reward

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Data from developmental psychology suggests a link between the growth of socio-emotional competences and the infant's sensitivity to the salience of social stimuli. The aim of the present study was to find evidence for this relationship in healthy adults. Thirty-five participants were recruited based on their score above the 85th or below the 15th percentile of the empathy quotient questionnaire (EQ, Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2004). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to compare neural responses to cues of social and non-social (monetary) reward. When compared to the high-EQ group, the low-EQ group showed reduced activity of the brain s reward system, specifically the right nucleus accumbens, in response to cues predictive of social reward (videos showing gestures of approval)—but increased activation in this area for monetary incentives. Our data provide evidence for a link between self-reported deficits in social proficiency and reduced sensitivity to the motivational salience of positive social stimuli.

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