Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brain response to threat - reduced by holding hands

Coan, Schaeffer, and Davidson show how social support reduces brain arousal in response to threat. Their abstract:
Social contact promotes enhanced health and well-being, likely as a function of the social regulation of emotional responding in the face of various life stressors. For this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding their husband's hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all. Results indicated a pervasive attenuation of activation in the neural systems supporting emotional and behavioral threat responses when the women held their husband's hand. A more limited attenuation of activation in these systems occurred when they held the hand of a stranger. Most strikingly, the effects of spousal hand-holding on neural threat responses varied as a function of marital quality, with higher marital quality predicting less threat-related neural activation in the right anterior insula, superior frontal gyrus, and hypothalamus during spousal, but not stranger, hand-holding.
A figure from the paper (click on figure to enlarge it):

Legend - Threat-responsive regions of interest affected by hand-holding condition. Green clusters highlighting right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC), left caudate–nucleus accumbens (lCd/Na), and superior colliculus (SC) indicate spouse-related attenuation. Blue clusters highlighting the ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC), posterior cingulate (PC), right postcentral gyrus (rPG), and left supramarginal gyrus (lSMG) indicate attenuation associated with both spouse and stranger hand-holding.

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