Functional Connectivity of Reward Networks: Characterizing Mechanistic Underpinnings Involved in Positive Affect Deficits within Social Anxiety Disorder

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Virginia Tech

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by excessive concern or fear of negative evaluation in one or more social situations and ranks as one of the most common psychiatric disorders. SAD has also been characterized by significant deficits in social motivation and a lack of reactivity to pleasurable stimuli (i.e., positive affect; [PA]), particularly within social contexts. Recent neuroimaging work has shifted towards examining positively-valenced motivational systems in SAD focused on reward responses to social and nonsocial stimuli. These studies have revealed aberrant reward processing during social reward tasks in individuals with SAD. However, not all individuals with SAD exhibit reward circuitry dysfunction. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine if functional patterns of connectivity in the brain underlie heterogeneity in PA differences in individuals with SAD. Results revealed several functional connectivity strength differences between SAD and control groups within reward regions. Additionally, associations between regions of interest (ROIs)-couplings (i.e., OFC and insula, OFC and subgenual cingulate, insula and cingulate, and cingulate and subgenual cingulate) and diminished PA were present in individuals with SAD, but not controls. Lastly, results demonstrated that individuals with SAD had higher variability in their reward connectivity strength presentations and reports of PA as compared to controls. These results hold significance for the development of interventions for SAD that focus on the enhancement of PA to bolster social reward responsivity.

social anxiety disorder, reward, positive affect, resting state fMRI