Neural responses to feedback in individuals with trait negative affect

Roberts, Katherine
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University of Delaware
An individual's actions, typically motivated to maximize rewards and minimize losses, govern the outcomes s/he receives. Accordingly, the mesolimbic circuit of the brain has evolved specialized structures to assess rewarding and aversive feedback in an effort to guide subsequent behavior. Although a substantial body of research indicates that a central feature of negative affect (NA) is increased sensitivity to negative outcomes, supporting brain mechanisms have not been fully identified. The present study therefore explored the relationship between trait NA and neural responses to feedback. Individuals high in trait NA or low in both trait NA and trait positive affect underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging as they completed a modified incentive delay task. Results indicated that participants with high trait NA had enhanced activation to both rewards and losses in the caudate, suggesting that both outcomes are arousing and that negative outcomes are reinforced much like rewarding ones. Trait NA was also associated with enhanced striatal activation to losses relative to missing rewards. Collectively, the data provide evidence that trait NA is associated with hyperresponsivity to valenced outcomes. Moreover, such individuals have particularly deviant processing in the reinforcement of losses, suggesting a mechanism by which negative cognitive bias develops and is maintained. Clinical implications are discussed.