Publications by authors named "Sandy J Lwi"

17 Publications

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Smaller Volume in Left-Lateralized Brain Structures Correlates with Greater Experience of Negative Non-target Emotions in Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Cereb Cortex 2021 Jan;31(1):15-31

University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

Subjective emotional experience that is congruent with a given situation (i.e., target emotions) is critical for human survival (e.g., feeling disgusted in response to contaminated food motivates withdrawal behaviors). Neurodegenerative diseases including frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease affect brain regions critical for cognitive and emotional functioning, resulting in increased experience of emotions incongruent with the situation (i.e., non-target emotions, such as feeling happy when seeing someone grieving). We examined neuroanatomical correlates of subjective experience of non-target emotions in 147 patients with neurodegenerative diseases and 26 healthy individuals. Participants watched three films intended to elicit particular target emotions and rated their experience of negative and positive target and non-target emotions after watching each film. We found that smaller volume in left hemisphere regions (e.g., caudate, putamen, and dorsal anterior insula) was associated with greater experience of negative non-target emotions. Follow-up analyses confirmed that these effects were left-lateralized. No correlates emerged for positive non-target emotions. These findings suggest that volume loss in left-hemisphere regions produces a more diffuse, incongruent experience of non-target emotions. These findings provide a potential neuroanatomical basis for understanding how subjective emotional experience is constructed in the brain and how this can be disrupted in neurodegenerative disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhaa193DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7727364PMC
January 2021

Pronoun Use during Patient-Caregiver Interactions: Associations with Caregiver Well-Being.

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2020 1;49(2):202-209. Epub 2020 Jul 1.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA,

Introduction: Caring for a spouse with dementia can be extremely challenging. Many caregivers experience profound declines in well-being; however, others remain healthy.

Objective: This study determined whether the personal pronouns used in interactions between persons with dementia (PWDs) and their spousal caregivers were associated with caregiver well-being.

Methods: Fifty-eight PWDs and their spousal caregivers engaged in a 10-min conversation about an area of disagreement in a laboratory setting. Verbatim transcripts of the conversation were coded using text analysis software, and caregivers and PWDs each received scores for (a) I-pronouns, (b) you-pronouns, and (c) we-pronouns. Caregivers' well-being was assessed using a composite measure of depression, anxiety, burden, and strain.

Results: Results revealed that less use of we-pronouns by caregivers and PWDs and greater use of I-pronouns by PWDs were -associated with lower caregiver well-being.

Conclusions: These findings indicate that less use of pronouns that refer to the couple (we-pronouns used by either partner) and greater use of pronouns that refer to the PWD (I-pronouns used by the PWD) are indicative of caregivers at heightened risk for lower well-being.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000508095DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7805608PMC
July 2020

Physiological, behavioral and subjective sadness reactivity in frontotemporal dementia subtypes.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2019 12;14(12):1453-1465

Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a neurodegenerative disease broadly characterized by socioemotional impairments, includes three clinical subtypes: behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA) and non-fluent variant primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA). Emerging evidence has shown emotional reactivity impairments in bvFTD and svPPA, whereas emotional reactivity in nfvPPA is far less studied. In 105 patients with FTD (49 bvFTD, 31 svPPA and 25 nfvPPA) and 27 healthy controls, we examined three aspects of emotional reactivity (physiology, facial behavior and subjective experience) in response to a sad film. In a subset of the sample, we also examined the neural correlates of diminished aspects of reactivity using voxel-based morphometry. Results indicated that all three subtypes of FTD showed diminished physiological responding in respiration rate and diastolic blood pressure; patients with bvFTD and svPPA also showed diminished subjective experience, and no subtypes showed diminished facial behavior. Moreover, there were differences among the clinical subtypes in brain regions where smaller volumes were associated with diminished sadness reactivity. These results show that emotion impairments extend to sadness reactivity in FTD and underscore the importance of considering different aspects of sadness reactivity in multiple clinical subtypes for characterizing emotional deficits and associated neurodegeneration in FTD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7137727PMC
December 2019

Responding to the emotions of others: Age differences in facial expressions and age-specific associations with relational connectedness.

Emotion 2019 Dec 7;19(8):1437-1449. Epub 2019 Feb 7.

Department of Psychology.

Responding prosocially to the emotion of others may become increasingly important in late life, especially as partners and friends encounter a growing number of losses, challenges, and declines. Facial expressions are important avenues for communicating empathy and concern, and for signaling that help is forthcoming when needed. In a study of young, middle-aged, and older adults, we measured emotional responses (facial expressions, subjective experience, and physiological activation) to a sad, distressing film clip and a happy, uplifting film clip. Results revealed that, relative to younger adults, older adults showed more sadness and confusion/concern facial expressions during the distressing film clip. Moreover, for older adults only, more sadness and fewer disgust facial expressions during the distressing film clip were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness. These findings remained stable when accounting for subjective emotional experience, physiological activation, and trait empathy in response to the film clip. When examining the uplifting film clip, older adults showed more happiness facial expressions relative to younger adults at trend levels. More facial expressions of happiness were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness, but unlike the effect of sadness expressions, this was not moderated by age. These findings underscore an important adaptive social function of facial expressions-particularly in response to the distress of others-in late life. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000534DOI Listing
December 2019

Ten-Year Prevalence of Cognitive Impairment Diagnoses and Associated Medical and Psychiatric Conditions in a National Cohort of Older Female Veterans.

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2019 04 13;27(4):417-425. Epub 2018 Dec 13.

the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SJL, DEB, KY), San Francisco; Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics (DEB, KY), University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco. Electronic address:

Objective: Veterans are at risk for dementia because of elevated general risk factors and exposure to military risk factors; however, few studies have focused on female veterans despite their growing numbers. We sought to characterize the 10-year prevalence of cognitive impairment (i.e., mild cognitive impairment and dementia) and associated conditions in older female veterans.

Methods: Data were extracted from Veterans Health Administration medical records of 168,111 female veterans aged 65 and older. Cognitive impairment (CI) diagnoses were defined using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) codes or dementia medication prescriptions. Medical comorbidities and psychiatric conditions were determined using ICD-9 codes occurring within 2years of CI diagnosis or the last recorded medical encounter for veterans without CI.

Results: Ten-year prevalence was 1.8% (3,075) for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) diagnoses and 8.1% (13,653) for dementia diagnoses. Prevalence increased with age (MCI age 65: 1.4%; age 85+: 2.7%; dementia age 65: 2.5%; age 85+: 17.7%); 37.3% had dementia subtype diagnoses, with Alzheimer's disease being the most prevalent (72.7%). 47.7% of veterans with CI had at least one medical comorbidity, whereas 22.5% had at least one psychiatric condition.

Conclusion: Few studies have characterized the prevalence of cognitive impairment in female veterans despite the expected increases in CI and impending demographic shifts in the military. The high prevalence of medical and psychiatric conditions in female veterans with CI highlights their healthcare burden and emphasizes the need for further investigations into the prevention, treatment, and care of cognitive impairment in this understudied population.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2018.12.015DOI Listing
April 2019

Military-related risk factors in female veterans and risk of dementia.

Neurology 2019 01 12;92(3):e205-e211. Epub 2018 Dec 12.

From the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System (K.Y., S.J.L., T.D.H., F.X., D.E.B., S.M., C.B.P.); and Departments of Psychiatry (K.Y., D.E.B., S.M.), Neurology (K.Y.), and Epidemiology & Biostatistics (K.Y.), University of California, San Francisco.

Objective: To determine whether diagnoses of traumatic brain injury (TBI), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, alone or in combination, increase dementia risk among older female veterans.

Methods: This cohort study included data from 109,140 female veterans ≥55 years of age receiving care from Veterans Health Administration medical centers in the United States between October 2004 and September 2015 with at least 1 follow-up visit. TBI, PTSD, depression, and medical conditions at study baseline and incident dementia were determined according to ICD-9-CM codes. Fine-Gray proportional hazards models were used to determine the association between military-related risk factors and dementia diagnosis, accounting for the competing risk of death.

Results: During follow-up (mean 4.0 years, SD 2.3), 4% of female veterans (n = 4,125) developed dementia. After adjustment for demographics and medical conditions, women with TBI, PTSD, and depression had a significant increase in risk of developing dementia compared to women without these diagnoses (TBI-adjusted subdistribution hazard ratio [adjusted sHR] 1.49, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01-2.20; PTSD adjusted sHR 1.78, 95% CI 1.34-2.36; and depression-adjusted sHR 1.67, 95% CI 1.55-1.80), while women with >1 diagnosis had the highest risk for dementia (adjusted sHR 2.15, 95% CI 1.84-2.51).

Conclusions: We found that women with military-related risk factors had an ≈50% to 80% increase in developing dementia relative to women without these diagnoses, while female veterans with multiple risk factors had a >2-fold risk of developing dementia. These findings highlight the need for increased screening of TBI, PTSD, and depression in older women, especially female veterans.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000006778DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6340384PMC
January 2019

Age-related changes in emotional behavior: Evidence from a 13-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples.

Emotion 2020 Mar 29;20(2):149-163. Epub 2018 Nov 29.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

We examined age-related changes in emotional behavior in a sample of middle-aged and older long-term married couples over a 13-year period. Data were collected at 3 waves, each occurring 5 to 6 years apart. For the present study, only couples who participated in all 3 waves were examined (n = 87). Couples were either in the middle-aged group (40-50 years old, married at least 15 years) or the older group (60-70 years old, married at least 35 years). At each wave, couples engaged in 15-min unrehearsed conversations about an area of disagreement in their marriage. Emotional behaviors during the conversation were objectively coded using the Specific Affect Coding System. Latent growth curve analyses revealed that, for both husbands and wives, negative emotional behavior (primarily belligerence, defensiveness, fear/tension, and whining) decreased and positive emotional behavior (primarily humor, enthusiasm, and validation) increased with age. Findings generalized across middle-aged and older cohorts and levels of marital satisfaction. These findings support theories that suggest that positive emotion increases and negative emotion decreases with age, expanding upon previous findings by examining objectively coded emotional behaviors longitudinally in an interpersonal context. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000551DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6541548PMC
March 2020

Network Architecture Underlying Basal Autonomic Outflow: Evidence from Frontotemporal Dementia.

J Neurosci 2018 10 4;38(42):8943-8955. Epub 2018 Sep 4.

Department of Neurology, University of California-San Francisco, Sandler Neurosciences Center, San Francisco, California 94158,

The salience network is a distributed neural system that maintains homeostasis by regulating autonomic nervous system activity and social-emotional function. Here we examined how within-network connectivity relates to individual differences in human (including males and females) baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous activity. We measured resting autonomic nervous system physiology in 24 healthy controls and 23 patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), a neurodegenerative disease characterized by baseline autonomic deficits. Participants also underwent structural and task-free fMRI. First, we used voxel-based morphometry to determine whether salience network atrophy was associated with lower baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia (a parasympathetic measure) and skin conductance level (a sympathetic measure) in bvFTD. Next, we examined whether functional connectivity deficits in 21 autonomic-relevant, salience network node-pairs related to baseline autonomic dysfunction. Lower baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia was associated with smaller volume in left ventral anterior insula (vAI), weaker connectivity between bilateral vAI and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and stronger connectivity between bilateral ACC and bilateral hypothalamus/amygdala. Lower baseline skin conductance level, in contrast, was associated with smaller volume in inferior temporal gyrus, dorsal mid-insula, and hypothalamus; weaker connectivity between bilateral ACC and right hypothalamus/amygdala; and stronger connectivity between bilateral dorsal anterior insula and periaqueductal gray. Our results suggest that baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic tone depends on the integrity of lateralized salience network hubs (left vAI for parasympathetic and right hypothalamus/amygdala for sympathetic) and highly calibrated ipsilateral and contralateral network connections. In bvFTD, deficits in this system may underlie resting parasympathetic and sympathetic disruption. The salience network maintains homeostasis and regulates autonomic nervous system activity. Whether within-network connectivity patterns underlie individual differences in resting parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity, however, is not well understood. We measured baseline autonomic nervous system activity in healthy controls and patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by resting autonomic deficits, and probed how salience network dysfunction relates to diminished parasympathetic and sympathetic outflow. Our results indicate that baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic tone are the product of complex, opposing intranetwork nodal interactions and depend on the integrity of highly tuned, lateralized salience network hubs (i.e., left ventral anterior insula for parasympathetic activity and right hypothalamus/amygdala for sympathetic activity).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0347-18.2018DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191520PMC
October 2018

The cost of believing emotions are uncontrollable: Youths' beliefs about emotion predict emotion regulation and depressive symptoms.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2018 08 5;147(8):1170-1190. Epub 2018 Apr 5.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

As humans, we have a unique capacity to reflect on our experiences, including emotions. Over time, we develop beliefs about the nature of emotions, and these beliefs are consequential, guiding how we respond to emotions and how we feel as a consequence. One fundamental belief concerns the controllability of emotions: Believing emotions are uncontrollable (entity beliefs) should reduce the likelihood of trying to control emotional experiences using effective regulation strategies like reappraisal; this, in turn, could negatively affect core indices of psychological health, including depressive symptoms. This model holds particular relevance during youth, when emotion-related beliefs first develop and stabilize and when maladaptive beliefs could contribute to emerging risk for depression. In the present investigation, a pilot diary study (N = 223, aged 21-60) demonstrated that entity beliefs were associated with using reappraisal less in everyday life, even when controlling for possible confounds (i.e., self-efficacy, pessimism, stress exposure, stress reactivity). Then, two studies examined whether entity beliefs and associated impairments in reappraisal may set youths on a maladaptive trajectory: In a cross-sectional study (N = 136, aged 14-18), youths with stronger entity beliefs experienced greater depressive symptoms, and this link was mediated by lower reappraisal. This pattern was replicated and extended in a longitudinal study (N = 227, aged 10-18), wherein youth- and parent-reported depressive symptoms were assessed 18 months after assessing beliefs. These results suggest that entity beliefs about emotion constitute a risk factor for depression that acts via reappraisal, adding to the growing literature on emotion beliefs and their consequences for self-regulation and health. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000396DOI Listing
August 2018

Increased subjective experience of non-target emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Curr Opin Behav Sci 2017 Jun 7;15:77-84. Epub 2017 Jun 7.

Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-5050, United States.

Although laboratory procedures are designed to produce specific emotions, participants often experience mixed emotions (i.e., target and non-target emotions). We examined non-target emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Alzheimer's disease (AD), other neurodegenerative diseases, and healthy controls. Participants watched film clips designed to produce three target emotions. Subjective experience of non-target emotions was assessed and emotional facial expressions were coded. Compared to patients with other neurodegenerative diseases and healthy controls, FTD patients reported more positive and negative non-target emotions, whereas AD patients reported more positive non-target emotions. There were no group differences in facial expressions of non-target emotions. We interpret these findings as reflecting deficits in processing interoceptive and contextual information resulting from neurodegeneration in brain regions critical for creating subjective emotional experience.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2017.05.017DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5810592PMC
June 2017

Genuine Smiles by Patients During Marital Interactions are Associated with Better Caregiver Mental Health.

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2019 08;74(6):975-987

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Objective: Providing care for a spouse with dementia is associated with an increased risk for poor mental health. To determine whether this vulnerability in caregivers is related to the expression of positive emotion, we examined 57 patients with Alzheimer's disease and behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and their spouses as they discussed a marital conflict.

Method: Facial behavior during the discussion was objectively coded to identify Duchenne (i.e., genuine) smiles and non-Duchenne (i.e., polite) smiles. Caregiver mental health was measured using the Medical Outcomes Survey.

Results: Greater expression of Duchenne smiles by patients was associated with better caregiver mental health, even when accounting for covariates (i.e., diagnosis, patient cognitive functioning, and caregiver marital satisfaction). Greater expression of non-Duchenne smiles by patients was associated with worse caregiver health, but only when covariates were entered in the model. Expression of Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles by caregivers was not associated with caregiver mental health.

Discussion: Patients' expression of Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles may reveal important aspects of the emotional quality of the patient-caregiver relationship that influence caregiver burden and mental health.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbx157DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6941495PMC
August 2019

Empathic Accuracy Deficits in Patients with Neurodegenerative Disease: Association with Caregiver Depression.

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2018 04 27;26(4):484-493. Epub 2017 Dec 27.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA. Electronic address:

Objectives: To investigate whether deficits in empathic accuracy (i.e., ability to recognize emotion in others) in patients with neurodegenerative disease are associated with greater depression in their caregivers.

Design: Two cross-sectional studies.

Setting: Academic medical center and research university.

Participants: Two independent samples (N = 172, N = 63) of patients with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and their caregivers; comparison group of healthy couples.

Measurement: Patients' empathic accuracy was assessed in the laboratory using a novel dynamic tracking task (rating another person's changing emotions over time) and more traditional measures (recognizing the emotion expressed in photographs of facial expressions and by characters in films). Caregivers completed self-report inventories of depression.

Results: Lower empathic accuracy in patients was associated with greater depression in caregivers in both studies. In study 1, this association was found when empathic accuracy was measured using the dynamic tracking measure but not when measured using the more traditional photograph and film measures. In study 2, we found preliminary support for our theoretical model wherein lower empathic accuracy in patients is associated with increased caregiver stress (loneliness, strain, and burden), which in turn is associated with greater caregiver depression.

Conclusions: Caring for a patient with deficits in empathic accuracy is associated with greater loneliness, strain, and burden for caregivers, and increased depression. Caregivers may benefit from interventions designed to compensate for the stress and interpersonal loss associated with patients' declining empathic accuracy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2017.10.012DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5860967PMC
April 2018

Greater Experience of Negative Non-Target Emotions by Patients with Neurodegenerative Diseases Is Related to Lower Emotional Well-Being in Caregivers.

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2017 8;44(5-6):245-255. Epub 2017 Dec 8.

Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

Background: Behavioral symptoms in patients with neurodegenerative diseases can be particularly challenging for caregivers. Previously, we reported that patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) experienced emotions that were atypical or incongruent with a given situation (i.e., non-target emotions).

Aim: We tested the hypothesis that greater experience of non-target emotions by patients is associated with lower caregiver emotional well-being.

Methods: 178 patients with FTD, AD, or other neurodegenerative diseases and 35 healthy individuals watched 3 films designed to induce amusement, sadness, and disgust, and then reported their emotions during the films. Caregivers of the patients reported their own emotional well-being on the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short-Form Health Survey.

Results: In response to the amusement and sadness (but not disgust) films, greater experience of non-target emotions by patients was related to lower caregiver emotional well-being. These effects were specific to patients' experience of negative non-target emotions (i.e., not found for positive non-target emotions or for negative or positive target emotions).

Conclusion: The findings reveal a previously unstudied patient behavior that is related to worse caregiver emotional well-being. Future research and clinical assessment may benefit from evaluating non-target emotions in patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000481132DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5906194PMC
September 2018

Poor caregiver mental health predicts mortality of patients with neurodegenerative disease.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 07 27;114(28):7319-7324. Epub 2017 Jun 27.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;

Dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases cause profound declines in functioning; thus, many patients require caregivers for assistance with daily living. Patients differ greatly in how long they live after disease onset, with the nature and severity of the disease playing an important role. Caregiving can also be extremely stressful, and many caregivers experience declines in mental health. In this study, we investigated the role that caregiver mental health plays in patient mortality. In 176 patient-caregiver dyads, we found that worse caregiver mental health predicted greater patient mortality even when accounting for key risk factors in patients (i.e., diagnosis, age, sex, dementia severity, and patient mental health). These findings highlight the importance of caring for caregivers as well as patients when attempting to improve patients' lives.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1701597114DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5514722PMC
July 2017

Positive urgency and emotional reactivity: Evidence for altered responding to positive stimuli.

Emotion 2017 04 7;17(3):442-449. Epub 2016 Nov 7.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Positive urgency, defined as a tendency to become impulsive during positive affective states, has gained support as a form of impulsivity that is particularly important for understanding psychopathology. Despite this, little is known about the emotional mechanisms and correlates of this form of impulsivity. We hypothesized that positive urgency would be related to greater emotional reactivity in response to a positive film clip. Seventy-five undergraduates watched a positive film clip, and a multimodal assessment of emotion was conducted, including subjective emotional experience, physiological activation (i.e., heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, skin conductance), and facial emotional behavior (i.e., objectively coded using the Facial Action Coding System). Positive urgency was not significantly related to greater positive emotional reactivity but rather a more complex array of emotions expressed in facial behavior, as indexed by similar levels of positive yet greater levels of negative behavior. These findings show that positive urgency may be linked to altered emotionality, but does not appear related to heightened positive emotional reactivity. Potential implications for functional outcomes are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000240DOI Listing
April 2017

The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in regulation of interpersonal space: evidence from frontal lesion and frontotemporal dementia patients.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016 12 10;11(12):1894-1901. Epub 2016 Aug 10.

University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

Interpersonal distance is central to communication and complex social behaviors but the neural correlates of interpersonal distance preferences are not defined. Previous studies suggest that damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is associated with impaired interpersonal behavior. To examine whether the OFC is critical for maintaining appropriate interpersonal distance, we tested two groups of patients with OFC damage: Patients with OFC lesions and patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. These two groups were compared to healthy controls and to patients with lesions restricted to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Only patients with OFC damage showed abnormal interpersonal distance preferences, which were significantly different from both controls and patients with dorsolateral prefrontal damage. The comfortable distances these patients chose with strangers were significantly closer than the other groups and resembled distances normally used with close others. These results shed light on the role of the OFC in regulating social behavior and may serve as a simple diagnostic tool for dementia or lesion patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw109DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5141960PMC
December 2016

Short alleles, bigger smiles? The effect of 5-HTTLPR on positive emotional expressions.

Emotion 2015 Aug 1;15(4):438-48. Epub 2015 Jun 1.

Department of Psychology and Institute for Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley.

The present research examined the effect of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene on objectively coded positive emotional expressions (i.e., laughing and smiling behavior objectively coded using the Facial Action Coding System). Three studies with independent samples of participants were conducted. Study 1 examined young adults watching still cartoons. Study 2 examined young, middle-aged, and older adults watching a thematically ambiguous yet subtly amusing film clip. Study 3 examined middle-aged and older spouses discussing an area of marital conflict (that typically produces both positive and negative emotion). Aggregating data across studies, results showed that the short allele of 5-HTTLPR predicted heightened positive emotional expressions. Results remained stable when controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and depressive symptoms. These findings are consistent with the notion that the short allele of 5-HTTLPR functions as an emotion amplifier, which may confer heightened susceptibility to environmental conditions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000074DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861141PMC
August 2015