Study: Low self-esteem alters neural responses.


The following article from The Dartmouth , supports John Kelly’s theory on low self-esteem:

Study: Low self-esteem alters neural responses
By Casey Aylward
The Dartmouth
Published on Thursday, April 1, 2010

Having low self-esteem changes the way the brain responds to social feedback, according to a new study by Dartmouth researchers published online Monday in the Oxford Journal Cerebral Cortex. The study, authored by Lean Somerville GR’08 and Dartmouth professors of psychology William Kelley and Todd Heatherton, provides a brain-based explanation for why people with low self-esteem are more aware of their social standing, pinpointing the area of the brain that is active when people with low self-esteem react to social situations.

“We were looking at the brain mechanism that may be involved in responding to positive or negative stimuli,” Heatherton said. “Our research shows that social cues have a bigger impact on those with low self-esteem and that these people may even alter their behavior as a result.”

The region in the brain that contains both the ventral anterior cingulate cortex — vACC — and the medial prefrontal cortex — mPFC — displayed higher activity in people with low self-esteem from both positive and negative social feedback, Heatherton said.

The study concluded that the vACC and mPFC have a functional role in processing social feedback and shaping perceptions of each participant’s social standing. The researchers could predict the participants’ opinions of their social standing by measuring the level of sensitivity to social stimuli in the vACC and mPFC, according to the study.

During the study, 50 participants between the ages of 18 and 24 were selected from the local community and shown photographs of the faces of 400 college-age males and females, according to the study. The brains of the participants were scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner as they rated individuals in the images based on “how likeable they looked” and whether the person in the picture seemed like he or she would like the participant.

The researchers determined whether participants had high or low self-esteem from self-evaluations participants filled out after the evaluation, as well as from the data received through the scan itself, the study said.

The results of the experiment showed that participants with low self-esteem believed they would receive less positive feedback from the pictured people. They also had enhanced activity in the vACC and mPFC in response to positive and negative social feedback. Participants with high self-esteem regularly overestimated the amount of positive feedback they would receive and displayed relative insensitivity in the vACC and mPFC, the study said.

In addition to the vACC and mPFC, the study also focused on the dorsal anterior cingulated cortex, which has been connected to processing social rejection. By studying these regions, the researchers aimed to amend a lack of consensus in prior work on these regions about their roles in social feedback processing, the study said.

Other studies have identified the vACC and mPFC as key regions of importance when studying psychological disorders closely linked to having low self-esteem, such as social anxiety disorder or depression, Heatherton said.

“In a recent study on depression, electrodes were stuck deep into this very region of the brain to stimulate it and make the patients feel better,” Heatherton said. “This translates into helping people.”

Heatherton said he believes the findings of this study could lead to improved methods in certain types of therapy by measuring the activity in the vACC and mPFC. Further research may even lead to a deeper understanding of the link between low self-esteem and depression, he said.

“One of the things that we try to do in people with low self-esteem is try to get them to be less responsive to slights, worrying about being embarrassed or thinking too much of how others perceive them,” Heatherton said. “Trying to better understand what happens to people when they feel these things and how that changes their behavior was the aim of our research.” “

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