PhD candidate, Monash University
Our research investigate the role of social support in pain reduction and the neural mechanisms.
We human beings live in a society, which is surrounded by multiple types of social connections. Throughout the journey of human revolution, we rely on social ties to survive and progress. A good example of this is that holding hand of a significant other can help us go through some painful moments. In our research, we are looking at how supportive relationship can shape human beings’ perception of pain. We are particularly interested in how our brain and body can decode this interaction between supportive relationship and painful feeling. We usually induce pain to healthy participants in different social contexts. In some contexts the participants will hold the hand of a close other (e.g. partner), or look at an image of a close other. While in other contexts they will go through pain by holding hand or looking at the image of a stranger (served as a control condition). In the extreme condition the participant will undergo painful stimuli by themselves (another control condition). As I am working on a neuroscience program I will use electroencephalogram (EEG) and heart rate to record brain oscillations and autonomic response respectively. These techniques will help elucidate how our brain and body interact to the social modulation of pain. Currently more and more studies have started to include supportive relationship into pain management therapies. But this effort is limited by our understanding of how our brain and body react to pain in the contexts of social support. We believe that this PhD program can contribute to the chronic pain management in the future.
Abstract: Although fear-conditioning research has demonstrated that certain survival-threatening stimuli, namely prepared fear stimuli, are readily associated with fearful events, little research has explored whether a parallel category exists for safety stimuli. We examined whether social-support figures, who have typically benefited survival, can serve as prepared safety stimuli, a category that has not been explored previously. Across three experiments, we uncovered three key findings. First, social-support figures were less readily associated with fear than were strangers or neutral stimuli (in a retardation-of-acquisition test). Second, social-support stimuli inhibited conditional fear responses to other cues (in a summation test), and this inhibition continued even after the support stimulus was removed. Finally, these effects were not simply due to familiarity or reward because both familiar and rewarding stimuli were readily associated with fear, whereas social-support stimuli were not. These findings suggest that social-support figures are one category of prepared safety stimuli that may have long-lasting effects on fear-learning processes.
Pub.: 22 Jun '16, Pinned: 04 Sep '17
Abstract: Although it has long been hypothesized that attachment figures provide individuals with a sense of safety and security, the neural mechanisms underlying attachment-induced safety have not been explored. Here, we investigated whether an attachment figure acts as a safety signal by exploring whether viewing an attachment figure during a threatening experience (physical pain) led to increased activity in a neural region associated with safety signaling, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), and corresponding reductions in pain. Female participants in long-term romantic relationships were scanned as they received painful stimuli while viewing pictures of their partner and control images (stranger, object). Consistent with the idea that the attachment figure may signal safety, results revealed that viewing partner pictures while receiving painful stimulation led to reductions in self-reported pain ratings, reductions in pain-related neural activity (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula), and increased activity in the VMPFC. Moreover, greater VMPFC activity in response to partner pictures was associated with longer relationship lengths and greater perceived partner support, further highlighting a role for the VMPFC in responding to the safety value of the partner. Last, greater VMPFC activity while viewing partner pictures was associated with reduced pain ratings and reduced pain-related neural activity. An implication of these findings is that, in the same way that stimuli that historically have threatened survival (e.g., snakes, spiders) are considered to be prepared fear stimuli, attachment figures, who have historically benefited survival, may serve as prepared safety stimuli, reducing threat- or distress-related responding in their presence.
Pub.: 29 Jun '11, Pinned: 04 Sep '17
Abstract: Perceived social support emphasizes subjective feeling of provisions offered by family, friends and significant others. In consideration of the great significance of perceived social support to health outcomes, attempt to reveal the neural substrates of perceived social support will facilitate its application in a series of mental disorders. Perceived social support potentially relies on healthy interpersonal relationships calling for cognitive processes like perspective taking, empathy and theory of mind. Interestingly, functional activations and connectivity within the default mode network (DMN) are extensively involved in these interpersonal skills. As a result, it is proposed that synchronous activities among brain regions within the DMN will correlate with self-report of perceived social support. In the present study, we tried to investigate the associations between coherence among the DMN regions and perceived social support at resting state. A total of 333 (145 men) participants were directed to fulfill the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) after a 484-s functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning without any task. As a result, seed-based functional connectivity and power spectrum analyses revealed that heightened synchronicity among the DMN regions was associated with better performance on perceived social support. Moreover, results in the present study were independent of different methods, structural changes, and general cognitive performance.
Pub.: 12 Aug '14, Pinned: 04 Sep '17
Abstract: Social support refers to interpersonal exchanges that include the combinations of aid, affirmation and affection. Perceived social support is a kind of subjective judgment of one's availability of social support. In spite of the importance of perceived social support to health, however, its neural substrate remains unknown. To address this question, voxel-based morphometry was employed to investigate the neural bases of individual differences in responses to the Perceived Social Support Scale (PSSS) in healthy volunteers (144 men and 203 women; mean age = 19.9; SD = 1.33, age range : 17-27). As a result, multiple regression analysis revealed that the PSSS scores were significantly and positively correlated with gray matter volume in a cluster that mainly included areas in posterior parts of posterior cingulate cortex, bilateral lingual cortex, left occipital lobe and cuneus. Highly-supported individuals had larger gray matter volume in these brain regions, implying a relatively high level of ability to engage in self-referential processes and social cognition. Our results provide a biological basis for exploring perceived social support particularly in relationship to various health parameters and outcomes.
Pub.: 09 Jan '14, Pinned: 04 Sep '17