Suffel, A., Nagels, A., Steines, M., Kircher, T., & Straube, B. (accepted). Feeling addressed! The neural processing of social communicative cues in patients with major depression. Human Brain Mapping
Background: The feeling of being addressed is the first step in a complex processing stream enabling successful social communication. Social impairments are a relevant characteristic of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Here, we investigated a mechanism which – if impaired – might contribute to withdrawal or isolation in MDD, i.e. the neural processing of social cues such as body orientation and gesture.
Methods: During fMRI data acquisition, 33 patients with MDD and 42 healthy control subjects watched video clips of a speaking actor: one version with a gesture accompanying the speech and one without gesture. Videos were filmed simultaneously from two different viewpoints: one with the actor facing the viewer head-on (frontal) and one side-view (lateral). After every clip, the participants were instructed to evaluate whether they felt addressed or not.
Results: Despite comparable behavioral performance and large overlap in activation patterns in MDD and controls, the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral superior/medial frontal cortex and right angular gyrus were more strongly activated in patients than in controls for the frontal conditions. Interaction analyses revealed that patients showed specifically higher activation than controls for the frontal condition without gesture in regions including the posterior cingulate cortex, left prefrontal cortex and the left hippocampus.
Conclusion: We conclude that MDD patients can recognize and interpreting social cues such as gesture or body orientation, though, they seem to require more neural resources. This additional effort might affect successful communication and contribute to social isolation in MDD.