Neural sensitivity to social reward and punishment anticipation in social anxiety disorder

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, Volume 8 (2015)

Other Number:



neural sensitivity; social anxiety disorder; social reward; punishment expectation


An imbalance in the
neural motivational system may underlie Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). This
study examines social reward and punishment anticipation in SAD, predicting a
valence-specific effect: increased striatal activity for punishment avoidance
compared to obtaining a reward. Individuals with SAD (n = 20) and age, gender,
and education case-matched controls (n = 20) participated in a functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study. During fMRI scanning, participants
performed a Social Incentive Delay (SID) task to measure the anticipation of
social reward and punishment. The left putamen (part of the striatum) showed a
valence-specific interaction with group after correcting for medication use and
comorbidity. The control group showed a relatively stronger activation for
reward vs. punishment trials, compared to the social anxiety group. However,
post-hoc pairwise comparisons were not significant, indicating that the effect
is driven by a relative difference. A connectivity analysis
(Psychophysiological interaction) further revealed a general salience effect:
SAD patients showed decreased putamen-ACC connectivity compared to controls for
both reward and punishment trials. Together these results suggest that the
usual motivational preference for social reward is absent in SAD. In addition,
cortical control processes during social incentive anticipation may be
disrupted in SAD. These results provide initial evidence for altered striatal
involvement in both valence-specific and valence-nonspecific processing of
social incentives, and stress the relevance of taking motivational processes
into account when studying social anxiety.