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Self-referential processing during observation of a speech performance task in social anxiety disorder from pre- to post-treatment: Evidence of disrupted neural activation.


Self-referential processing is critical to understanding social anxiety disorder (SAD). This study examined neural differences in self-referential processing in healthy controls (HC) and participants with SAD at pre- and post-treatment. Participants (n = 64) underwent fMRI scanning while viewing a video of themselves ("Self") or another person ("Other"). SAD participants were randomized to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or waitlist, and were re-scanned at post-treatment. In SAD vs. HC, the fusiform face area (FFA) showed significantly more activation during Self vs. Other, and greater SAD severity was associated with significantly more activation during Self vs. Other in the right FFA and the left extrastriate body area (EBA). Greater reduction in SAD severity was associated with stronger connectivity between the amygdala and FFA during Self vs. Other at post-treatment, whereas the strength of connectivity during Self and Other was comparable at post-treatment for those with less SAD reduction. Thus, there were significant differences in activation and functional connectivity of brain regions implicated in self-referential processing in SAD. Change in connectivity between the amygdala and FFA were observed as a function of change in SAD severity, suggesting that improvements in SAD severity may correct this altered functional connectivity.

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