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Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex Responses to Repeated Social Evaluative Feedback in Young Women with and without a History of Depression


The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) is recruited when a person is socially rejected or negatively evaluated. However, it remains to be fully understood how this region responds to repeated exposure to personally-relevant social evaluation, in both healthy populations and those vulnerable to Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), as well as how responding in these regions is associated with subsequent clinical functioning. To address this gap in the literature, we recruited 17 young women with past history of MDD (previously depressed) and 31 healthy controls and exposed them to a social evaluative session in a neuroimaging environment. In two bouts, participants received an equal amount of positive, negative, and neutral feedback from a confederate. All participants reported increases in feelings of social evaluation in response to the evaluative task. However, compared to healthy controls, previously depressed participants tended to show greater increases in depressed mood following the task. At the neural level, in response to negative (vs. positive) feedback, no main effect of group or evaluation periods was observed. However, a significant interaction between group and evaluation periods was found. Specifically, over the two bouts of evaluation, activity in the dACC decreased among healthy participants while it increased among previously depressed individuals. Interestingly and unexpectedly, in the previously depressed group specifically, this increased activity in dACC over time was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms at baseline and at 6-months following the evaluation session (controlling for baseline levels). Thus, the subset of previously depressed participants who showed increases in the recruitment of the dACC over time in response to the negative evaluation seemed to fair better emotionally. These findings suggest that examining how the dACC responds to repeated bouts of negative evaluation reveals a new dimension to the role of the dACC in processing exclusion and contributing to mental health outcomes in a population vulnerable to MDD. Further, investigation of the dynamics of the dACC response to negative social evaluation is warranted.

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