The neural basis of conceptual-emotional integration and its role in major depressive disorder

Sophie Green, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, Jorge Moll, Jessica Zakrzewski, John F William Deakin, Jordan Grafman, Roland Zahn, Beverley Haggis

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    The importance of differentiating between social concepts when appraising actions (e.g., understanding behavior as critical vs. fault-finding) and its contribution to vulnerability to major depressive disorder (MDD) is unknown. We predicted poor integration of differentiated conceptual knowledge when people with MDD appraise their social actions, contributing to their tendency to grossly overgeneralize self-blame (e.g., "I am unlikable rather than critical"). To test this hypothesis, we used a neuropsychological test measuring social conceptual differentiation and its relationship with emotional biases in a remitted MDD and a control group. During fMRI, guilt- and indignation-evoking sentences were presented. As predicted, conceptual overgeneralization was associated with increased emotional intensity when appraising social actions. Interdependence of conceptual overgeneralization and negative emotional biases was stronger in MDD (reproducible in the subgroup without medication) and was associated with overgeneralized self-blame. This high conceptual-emotional interdependence was associated with functional disconnection between the right superior anterior temporal lobe (ATL) and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) as well as a septal region across groups when experiencing guilt (SPM8). Strong coupling of conceptual information (ATL) with information about the context of actions and emotions (frontal-subcortical regions) is thus associated with appraisal being less dependent on conceptual overgeneralization, thereby protecting against excessive self-blame. © 2013 Copyright 2013 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)417-433
    Number of pages16
    JournalSocial Neuroscience
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


    • Differentiation
    • Emotional biases
    • Information theory
    • Major depression
    • Moral emotions
    • Overgeneralization
    • Redundancy
    • Self-blame
    • Social concepts
    • Vulnerability


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