Tim Brunson DCH

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Social reinforcement can regulate localized brain activity.

Social learning is essential for adaptive behavior in humans. Neurofeedback based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) trains control over localized brain activity. It can disentangle learning processes at the neural level and thus investigate the mechanisms of operant conditioning with explicit social reinforcers. In a pilot study, a computer-generated face provided a positive feedback (smiling) when activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) increased and gradually returned to a neutral expression when the activity dropped. One female volunteer without previous experience in fMRI underwent training based on a social reinforcer. Directly before and after the neurofeedback runs, neural responses to a cognitive interference task (Simon task) were recorded. We observed a significant increase in activity within ACC during the neurofeedback blocks, correspondent with the a-priori defined anatomical region of interest. In the course of the neurofeedback training, the subject learned to regulate ACC activity and could maintain the control even without direct feedback. Moreover, ACC was activated significantly stronger during Simon task after the neurofeedback training when compared to before. Localized brain activity can be controlled by social reward. The increased ACC activity transferred to a cognitive task with the potential to reduce cognitive interference. Systematic studies are required to explore long-term effects on social behavior and clinical applications.

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010 Nov;260 Suppl 2:S132-6. Epub 2010 Oct 9. Mathiak KA, Koush Y, Dyck M, Gaber TJ, Alawi E, Zepf FD, Zvyagintsev M, Mathiak K. Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 30, 52074 Aachen, Germany. kamathiak@ukaachen.de

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