Comparative studies have established that a number of structures within the rostromedial basal forebrain are critical for affiliative behaviors and social attachment. Lesion and neuroimaging studies concur with the importance of these regions for attachment and the experience of affiliation in humans as well. Yet it remains obscure whether the neural bases of affiliative experiences can be differentiated from the emotional valence with which they are inextricably associated at the experiential level. Here we show, using functional MRI, that kinship-related social scenarios evocative of affiliative emotion induce septal–preoptic–anterior hypothalamic activity that cannot be explained by positive or negative emotional valence alone. Our findings suggest that a phylogenetically conserved ensemble of basal forebrain structures, especially the septohypothalamic area, may play a key role in enabling human affiliative emotion. Our finding of a neural signature of human affiliative experience bears direct implications for the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning impaired affiliative experiences and behaviors in neuropsychiatric conditions.
Figure Legend - Activation of the septal/preoptic-anterior hypothalamic and medial FPC, predicted a priori, as well as in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus region (data not shown) and precuneus (Prec), observed in the affiliative versus nonaffiliative contrast.
Figure Legend - Brain regions associated with positive versus negative conditions (red-yellow) and negative versus positive contrasts (blue-green). Activation of the ventral striatum (VStr) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (medOFC; BA11/32) was observed in the positive versus negative contrast. For the negative versus positive contrast, activation of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC; BA 8/9) and lateral frontal cortex, including the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus (latFC), as well as the adjoining anterior insula (antIns) was observed (BA 45/47/48).