Neural substrates for anticipation and consumption of social and monetary incentives in depression

Zhenhong He, Dandan Zhang, Nils Muhlert, Rebecca Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depression has been reliably associated with abnormalities in the neural representation of reward and loss. However, most studies have focused on monetary incentives; fewer studies have considered neural representation of social incentives. A direct comparison of non-social and social incentives within the same study would establish whether responses to the different incentives are differentially affected in depression. The functional magnetic resonance imaging study presented here investigated the neural activity of individuals with subthreshold depression (SD) and healthy controls (HCs) while they participated in an incentive delay task offering two types of reward (monetary gain vs social approval) and loss (monetary loss vs social disapproval). Compared to HCs, individuals with SD showed increased subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) activity during anticipation of social loss, whereas the response in the putamen was decreased during consumption of social gain. Individuals with SD also exhibited diminished insula responses in consuming social loss. Furthermore, positive connectivity between the insula and ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex (VLPFC) was observed in individuals with SD while negative connectivity was found in HCs when consuming social loss. These results demonstrate neural alterations in individuals with depression, specific to the processing of social incentives, mainly characterised by dysfunction within the 'social pain network' (sgACC, insula and VLPFC).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-826
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2019


  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological/physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex/physiopathology
  • Depression/physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli/physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation/physiology
  • Putamen/physiopathology
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior
  • Young Adult


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