Brain structure correlates of expected social threat and reward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • Authors:
  • Bonni Crawford
  • Nils Muhlert
  • Geoff MacDonald
  • Andrew Lawrence


Prospection (mentally simulating future events) generates emotionally-charged mental images that guide social decision-making. Positive and negative social expectancies—imagining new social interactions to be rewarding versus threatening—are core components of social approach and avoidance motivation, respectively. Interindividual differences in such positive and negative future-related cognitions may be underpinned by distinct neuroanatomical substrates. Here, we asked 100 healthy adults to vividly imagine themselves in a novel self-relevant event that was ambiguous with regards to possible social acceptance or rejection. During this task we measured participants’ expectancies for social reward (anticipated feelings of social connection) or threat (anticipated feelings of rejection). On a separate day they underwent structural MRI; voxel-based morphometry was used to explore the relation between social reward and threat expectancies and regional grey matter volumes (rGMV). Increased rGMV in key default-network regions involved in prospection, socio-emotional cognition, and subjective valuation, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex, correlated with both higher social reward and lower social threat expectancies. In contrast, social threat expectancies uniquely correlated with rGMV of regions involved in social attention (posterior superior temporal sulcus, pSTS) and interoception (somatosensory cortex). These findings provide novel insight into the neurobiology of future-oriented cognitive-affective processes critical to adaptive social functioning.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2020