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Enhancing ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation mitigates social pain and modifies subsequent social attitudes: Insights from TMS and fMRI.

NeuroImage 2024 April 19
Social pain, a multifaceted emotional response triggered by interpersonal rejection or criticism, profoundly impacts mental well-being and social interactions. While prior research has implicated the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (rVLPFC) in mitigating social pain, the precise neural mechanisms and downstream effects on subsequent social attitudes remain elusive. This study employed transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) integrated with fMRI recordings during a social pain task to elucidate these aspects. Eighty participants underwent either active TMS targeting the rVLPFC (n = 41) or control stimulation at the vertex (n = 39). Our results revealed that TMS-induced rVLPFC facilitation significantly reduced self-reported social pain, confirming the causal role of the rVLPFC in social pain relief. Functional connectivity analyses demonstrated enhanced interactions between the rVLPFC and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, emphasizing the collaborative engagement of prefrontal regions in emotion regulation. Significantly, we observed that negative social feedback led to negative social attitudes, whereas rVLPFC activation countered this detrimental effect, showcasing the potential of the rVLPFC as a protective buffer against adverse social interactions. Moreover, our study uncovered the impact role of the hippocampus in subsequent social attitudes, a relationship particularly pronounced during excitatory TMS over the rVLPFC. These findings offer promising avenues for improving mental health within the intricate dynamics of social interactions. By advancing our comprehension of the neural mechanisms underlying social pain relief, this research introduces novel intervention strategies for individuals grappling with social distress. Empowering individuals to modulate rVLPFC activation may facilitate reshaping social attitudes and successful reintegration into communal life.

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