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Effects of alexithymia and empathy on the neural processing of social and monetary rewards

Abstract

Empathy has been found to affect the neural processing of social and monetary rewards. Alexithymia, a subclinical condition showing a close inverse relationship with empathy is linked to dysfunctions of socio-emotional processing in the brain. Whether alexithymia alters the neural processing of rewards, which is currently unknown. Here, we investigated the influence of both alexithymia and empathy on reward processing using a social incentive delay (SID) task and a monetary incentive delay (MID) task in 45 healthy men undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Controlling for temperament-character dimensions and rejection sensitivity, the relationship of alexithymia and empathy with neural activity in several a priori regions of interest (ROIs) was examined by means of partial correlations, while participants anticipated and received social and monetary rewards. Results were considered significant if they survived Holm–Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. Alexithymia modulated neural activity in several ROIs of the emotion and reward network, both during the anticipation of social and monetary rewards and in response to the receipt of monetary rewards. In contrast, empathy did not affect reward anticipation and modulated ROI activity only in response to the receipt of social rewards. These results indicate a significant influence of alexithymia on the processing of social and monetary rewards in the healthy brain.

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Goerlich, K.S., Votinov, M., Lammertz, S.E. et al. Effects of alexithymia and empathy on the neural processing of social and monetary rewards. Brain Struct Funct 222, 2235–2250 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-016-1339-1

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Keywords

  • Reward
  • Social
  • Monetary
  • Anticipation
  • Feedback
  • Alexithymia
  • Empathy
  • fMRI