Bachelor of Arts, University of Connecticut (2005)
Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Davis (2017)
Functional neuroimaging studies have emphasized distinct networks for social cognition and affective aspects of empathy. However, studies have not considered whether substrates of social cognition, such as the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ), play a role in affective responses to complex empathy-related stimuli. Here, we used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to test whether the right TPJ contributes to psychophysiological responses to another person's emotional suffering. We used a theory of mind functional localizer and image-guided TMS to target the sub-region of the right TPJ implicated in social cognition, and measured autonomic and subjective responses to an empathy induction video. We found evidence that TMS applied at 1 Hz over the right TPJ increased withdrawal of parasympathetic nervous system activity during the empathy induction (n = 32), but did not affect sympathetic nervous system activity (n = 27). Participants who received TMS over the right TPJ also reported feeling more irritation and annoyance, and were less likely to report feeling compassion over and above empathic sadness, than participants who received TMS over the vertex (N = 34). This study provides preliminary evidence for the role of right TPJ functioning in empathy-related psychophysiological and affective responding, potentially blurring the distinction between neural regions specific to social cognition vs. affective aspects of empathy.
View details for DOI 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00007
View details for PubMedID 32047426
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6997337
Early life stress (ELS) may accelerate frontoamygdala development related to socioemotional processing, serving as a potential source of resilience. Whether this circuit is associated with other proposed measures of accelerated development is unknown. In a sample of young adolescents, we examined the relations among ELS, frontoamygdala circuitry during viewing of emotional faces, cellular aging as measured by telomere shortening, and pubertal tempo. We found that greater cumulative severity of ELS was associated with stronger negative coupling between bilateral centromedial amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a pattern that may reflect more mature connectivity. More negative frontoamygdala coupling (for distinct amygdala subdivisions) was associated with slower telomere shortening and pubertal tempo over 2 years. These potentially protective associations of negative frontoamygdala connectivity were most pronounced in adolescents who had been exposed to higher ELS. Our findings provide support for the formulation that ELS accelerates maturation of frontoamygdala connectivity and provide novel evidence that this neural circuitry confers protection against accelerated biological aging, particularly for adolescents who have experienced higher ELS. Although negative frontoamygdala connectivity may be an adaptation to ELS, frontoamygdala connectivity, cellular aging, and pubertal tempo do not appear to be measures of the same developmental process.
View details for DOI 10.1093/cercor/bhaa057
View details for PubMedID 32215605
Attachment plays a key role in how children process information about the self and others. Here, we examined the neural bases of interindividual differences in attachment in late childhood and tested whether social cognition-related neural activity varies as function of age. In a small sample of 8-year-old to 12-year-old children (n = 21/19), we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural responses during social feedback processing and self-other distinction. Attachment was assessed using child self-report. The social feedback processing task presented smiling and angry faces either confirming or disconfirming written information about participant performance on a perceptual game. In addition to observing main effects of facial emotion and performance, an increase in age was related to a shift from negative (i.e., angry faces/bad performance) to positive (i.e., smiling faces/good performance) information processing in the left amygdala/hippocampus, bilateral fusiform face area, bilateral anterior temporal pole (ATP), and left anterior insula. There were no effects of attachment on social feedback processing. The self-other distinction task presented digital morphs between children's own faces and faces of their mother or stranger females. We observed differential activation in face processing and mentalizing regions in response to self and mother faces versus morphed faces. Furthermore, left ATP activity was associated with attachment anxiety such that greater attachment anxiety was related to a shift from heightened processing of self and mother faces to morphed faces. There were no effects of age on self-other distinction. We discuss our preliminary findings in the context of attachment theory and previous work on social evaluation and self-other processing.
View details for DOI 10.3758/s13415-020-00781-w
View details for PubMedID 32141028
View details for Web of Science ID 000494324000023
Contaminants in drinking water, such as lead, nitrate, and arsenic, have been linked to negative physical health outcomes. We know less, however, about whether such pollutants also predict mental health problems and, if so, the conditions under which such effects are strongest. In this longitudinal study, we examined whether drinking water contaminants interact with negative family environments (parental psychological control) to predict changes in depressive symptoms in 110 adolescents-a developmental period when symptoms often first emerge. We found that for adolescents in psychologically controlling families, levels of drinking water contaminants prospectively predicted depressive symptoms two years later; this effect was not present in adolescents in non-controlling families. Importantly, these associations were not accounted for by family- or community-level socioeconomic resources, demographic features, or by the adolescents' stress exposure. These findings highlight the interplay of physical and psychological environments in influencing depressive symptoms in adolescents. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
View details for PubMedID 31009144
Whether neurovisceral integration, reflected by resting high-frequency heart rate variability (HRV), constrains or facilitates neural reactivity to other people's emotions is unclear. We assessed the relation between resting HRV and neural activation when observing and imitating emotional faces. We focused on brain regions implicated in sensorimotor resonance, salience detection and arousal. We used electrocardiogram data to compute resting HRV. Resting HRV measures were negatively correlated with activation in a portion of the inferior frontal gyrus showing mirror neuron properties, the insula and the amygdala in response to observation, but not imitation, of emotional faces. Thus, resting HRV appears to be linked to sensitivity to others' emotional cues, both in terms of the tendency to map others' emotional facial expressions onto one's own motor system and to rapidly detect and mark others' emotions as salient events. Resting HRV may reflect, in part, a threshold for increased processing of others' emotional cues.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2019.107717
View details for PubMedID 31199946
Exposure to high levels of fine particle air pollution (PM2.5) is associated with adolescent pathophysiology. It is unclear, however, if PM2.5 is associated with physiology within psychosocial contexts, such as social stress, and whether some adolescents are particularly vulnerable to PM2.5-related adverse effects. This study examined the association between PM2.5 and autonomic reactivity to social stress in adolescents and tested whether symptoms of anxiety and depression moderated this association.Adolescents from Northern California (N = 144) participated in a modified Trier Social Stress Test while providing high-frequency heart rate variability and skin conductance level data. PM2.5 data were recorded from CalEnviroScreen. Adolescents reported on their own symptoms of anxiety and depression using the Youth Self-Report, which has been used in prior studies and has good psychometric properties (Cronbach's α in this sample was .86).Adolescents residing in neighborhoods characterized by higher concentrations of PM2.5 demonstrated greater autonomic reactivity (i.e., indexed by lower heart rate variability and higher skin conductance level) (β = .27; b = .44, p = .001, 95% CI = 0.19 to 0.68) in response to social stress; this association was not accounted for by socioeconomic factors. In addition, adolescents who reported more severe anxiety and depression symptoms showed the strongest association between PM2.5 and autonomic reactivity to social stress (β = .53; b = .86, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.48 to 1.23).Exposure to PM2.5 may heighten adolescent physiological reactivity to social stressors. Moreover, adolescents who experience anxiety and depression may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of PM2.5 on stress reactivity.
View details for DOI 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000714
View details for PubMedID 31460967
Physiological recovery from negative emotions may be important for effective self-regulation, but little is known about recovery processes in children. The current study investigated links between autonomic physiology, anger expressions, and emotion regulation in a sample of eighty-three 3.5-year-olds. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia and pre-ejection period were measured during an anger induction task as parasympathetic and sympathetic indices, respectively. We examined whether preschoolers' anger expressions and emotion regulation behaviors were associated with individual differences in physiology. Autonomic changes were more strongly linked with emotion regulation than with expressed anger. Verbalized regulatory strategies were linked with greater sympathetic reactivity and also with greater recovery. In contrast, attention diversion was associated with blunted patterns of sympathetic reactivity followed by increased sympathetic arousal in the recovery phase. Disengaging from an emotional challenge may be linked with reduced physiological arousal in the short term, this behavior but also appears to have delayed consequences for physiological recovery.
View details for PubMedID 29926898
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