Automatic brain activation to faces and voices in social phobia before and after psychotherapy
T. Straube and W.H.R. Miltner
Patients suffering from social phobia show information processing biases, and also exhibit increased brain responses during the processing of socially threatening stimuli (such as angry faces or voices). However, it is unknown to what extent automatic brain responses to social threat signals in social phobia depend on cognitive resources, threat-relevance, modality and intensity of emotional social stimuli. It is also unclear whether brain responses can be modified by successful interventions, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Based on stimuli, methods and results from the first funding period, the current project extends the research questions into the applied clinical domain. Our aim is to investigate brain activation during automatic processing of emotional facial expressions and prosody in social phobia before and after CBT. We will use parallel event-related fMRI and EEG recordings, and experimentally vary emotional expression (anger, happy, neutral), emotional intensity (low, high), attentional load (low, high) and sensory modality (face, voice), to answer the following questions. First, are there rapid threat-specific brain responses to faces and voices in social phobia? Second, what is the role of attention for emotion-specific activation patterns? Third, do overlapping/similar brain mechanisms mediate the processing of emotional information from voices and faces in social phobia? Fourth, (how) are phobiarelated automatic brain responses modified by successful CBT? And fifth, can brain responses during the automatic processing of social stimuli predict treatment outcomes?