Affective forecasting refers to the ability to forecast emotional responses to future activities. Patients with mental disorders have found to exhibit a diminished ability to forecast future events and render a reduced ability to engage in social activities. Such behaivours have been considered to be a sign of anhedonia that is a core feature negative symptoms in schizophrenia.
Empirical findings from Dr. Raymond's team from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have revealed that altered functional connectivity of the medial temporal lobe subsystem has not just been observed in patients with established schizophrenia but also in at-risk individuals with social anhedonia. However, their findings did not differentiate the role of social and non-social components. It is still not clear whether such alteration in brain connectivity is specific to conditions involving social context or not.
To bridge such a gap of knowledge, Dr. Raymond Chan's team and his international collaborators have conducted a study to examine specifically the role of social components in affective forecasting in 40 individuals with social anhedonia and 46 healthy controls. All participants were requested to complete the social affective forecasting task. They needed to rate how they felt at the moment of taking the task along scale to assess their valence (very unhappy to very happy along a 9-point scale) and how excited they were (very peaceful to very excited along a 9-pont scale).
They were then asked to imagine future events according to the presented materials involving positive and negative events in social and non-social conditions. They were required to rate their anticipated valence and arousal for each imagined event. Moreover, 26 individuals of social anhedonia and 30 healthy controls further took part for the resting-state brain scan thereafter.
Their results showed that individuals with social anhedonia anticipated diminished pleasure especially in social conditions and their affective forecasting consisted of less visualization, voice, taste, self-referential thoughts, other-referential thoughts and language communication than healthy controls.
They also found positive correlation between anticipated pleasure (valence and arousal for positive events) and effort level, especially in social conditions. Increased functional connectivity between the retrosplenial cortex and the insula but reduced functional connectivity between the hippocampal formation and the parahippocampus were also observed in individuals with social anhedonia. More importantly, the observed altered functional connectivity was correlated with anticipated valence in social, but not non-social, conditions.
Taken together, researchers found individuals with social anhedonia exhibited reduced ability to anticipate pleasure in social but not non-social conditions. Moreover, these impairments were associated with altered functional brain connectivity.
Dr. Chan's group is now undertaking a task-based paradigm to examine whether such impairments would account for a better discrimination of subclinical cases from healthy controls. Future management regime may benefit from improving affective forecasting ability for both clinical and subclinical cases.
This study is now published online in Schizophrenia Research and it was supported by grants from the National Science Fund China, the National Key Research and Development Programme, the Beijing Municipal Science, the Technology Commission Grant and the Beijing Training Project for the Leading Talents in Science and Technology.
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