The biology influencing individual differences in social and emotional processing

Sarina Rodrigues Saturn, PhD Assistant Professor School of Psychological Science Oregon State University

A little bit about me:

Sarina Saturn
• • • • • • The scientist formally known as Sarina Rodrigues 1993: Entered neuroendocrinology research at OHSU 2003: Completed PhD in Neuroscience at NYU: Joseph LeDoux 2005: Postdoctoral fellow at Stanford: Robert Sapolsky 2007: Postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley: Dacher Keltner 2009: Assistant Professor at Oregon State University

Acknowledgements
• My amazing collaborators, especially:
• Laura Saslow PhD @ UCSF • Dacher Keltner, PhD @ UC Berkeley • Walter Piper & Jillian Garrison @ OSU

Funding:

• The organizers and sponsors of this amazing conference!

Emotions

Stress Response
• Raw, primal, and amazingly strong • Hardwired universal survival mechanism • Similar brain circuitry across many species

LeDoux, 1994

Rodrigues, LeDoux, & Sapolsky (2009) Annual Review of Neuroscience

Stress
and the

Body

Stress and the Brain

Rodrigues, LeDoux, & Sapolsky (2009) Annual Review of Neuroscience

Oxytocin has potent physiological anti-stress effects:
• modulate stress hormone levels • inhibiting cardiovascular responses to stress • lowering amygdala responses to emotional stimuli

Prosociality: ‘voluntary behavior intended
to benefit another, such as helping, sharing, and comforting’ Dr. Nancy Eisenberg (1982)
• Raw, primal, and amazingly strong • Hardwired universal survival mechanism • Similiar brain circuitry across many species

Oxytocin and Prosocial Behavior
• Oxytocin supports affiliative behavior in a variety of species
• pair-bond formation • parental care
Dr. C. Sue Carter and others

Oxytocin and Prosocial Behavior
• In humans, intra-nasal administration of oxytocin increases:
• • • • generosity trust eye gaze ability to infer the affective mental state of others

• Natural oxytocin levels relate to:
• parent-child bonding behaviors • feelings of romantic love and trust • empathy and subsequent generosity towards strangers

Oxytocin and the Vagus Nerve
• “The social engagement system is intimately related to stress reactivity. “ • The anatomical structures involved in the social engagement system have neurophysiological interactions with the stress and oxytocin systems.
Dr. Stephen Porges (2001)

Vagus nerve and witnessing compassionate acts

Walter Piper

Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) is an index of vagus/parasympathetic activity

• This world would be VERY boring if we all looked, acted, and felt the same!

What causes individual differences in social and emotional profiles?
• • • • • Life experiences Environment Culture Society Inborn tendencies • *genetic variations

Polymorphisms
“many forms”

Polymorphisms affect our brain chemistry

Oxytocin Receptor

• Distributed throughout the body and the brain:
• • • • heart hypothalamus, amygdala medullary structures regulating vagal control of the heart regions of the spinal cord that regulate the autonomic nervous system, especially the parasympathetic branch

Polymorphisms
• Serotonin system
• Depression, negative emotions

• Dopamine system
• Reward seeking, addictive behaviors

How is a polymorphism (rs53576) of the oxytocin receptor related to stress reactivity?

Stress Reactivity: Physiological
• Startle paradigm: white noise bursts presented through headphones • Average heart rate during a fearpotentiated startle anticipation task (vs. baseline)

Alleles
• An allele is one of two or more forms of a gene or a genetic locus (generally a group of genes)

Stress Reactivity: Startle Anticipation Heart Rate

Rodrigues et al. (2009) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Stress Reactivity Scale
We used items that measure negative-emotion reactivity in stressful situations, emergencies, and crises, rather than baseline negative affect. This unidimensional scale measures a general factor of stress reactivity.
Measure Pearson Correlation
**<0.01

Authors

Resilience Rumination
Perceived stress Emotion Reappraisal Attentional Control

-0.52** 0.52**
0.59** -0.28** -0.46**

Sinclair & Watson, 2004 Trapnell & Campbell, 1999
Cohen et al., 1983 Gross & John, 2003 Derryberry & Reed, 2002

Stress Reactivity: Dispositional

Rodrigues et al. (2009) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

How does the same genetic variation influence empathy?

Empathy
Refers to the ability to understand and experience what others are feeling while maintaining self-other differentiation

Davis: Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI)
A well-validated self-report scale that reflects the core facets of other-oriented empathic behavior

Dimensions (subscales) of the IRI

EMPATHIC CONCERN

• I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.

Dimensions (subscales) of the IRI

PERSPECTIVE TAKING

• I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things would look from their perspective

Interpersonal Reactivity Index

Rodrigues et al. (2009) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Reading the Mind in the Eyes
• Simon Baron-Cohen • Performance enhanced in nonclinical populations after oxytocin administration
(Domes et al., 2007)

• Performance negatively associated with autism

Reading the Mind in the Eyes

Rodrigues et al. (2009) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Implications
• Empathy and stress reactivity are on opposing ends of a neurobiological continuum: OXYTOCIN

• Strangers viewed 20-sec video clips of someone listening to their romantic partner talk about a time of suffering • Evaluated nonverbal compassionate cues
• • • • • Eye contact Leaning Nodding Smiles Arm posture
Kogan et al. (2011) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

GGs rated more prosocial by strangers (>AAs/AGs)

Kogan et al. (2011) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Implications
• Genetic variability in the oxytocin system may contribute to individual differences in complex human social and emotional behaviors

We have also found that this same oxytocin receptor polymorphism relates to:
• Social Dominance Orientation: Measures to what degree a person endorses and desires group-based hierarches • Liberalism / Conservatism • Openness to Experience • Spirituality

Others have found that this same oxytocin receptor polymorphism relates to:
• Differential structure and function of emotional brain regions • More sensitive parenting • Lower risk for autism spectrum disorders • …..more! 

Tost et al., 2010; Bakermans-Kranenburg & van Ijzendoorn, 2008; Tops et al., 2011; Norman et al., 2012; Wu et al., 2005; Wertmer, et al., 2009

Implications

Implications
• It is important to understand that everyone has unique obstacles to achieving inner-peace and sociality

Implications
• EVERYONE can fight the damaging effects of stress on the
brain and the body by developing social connectedness

Oxytocin has been shown to:
• Robustly modulate the stress response • Boost prosociality

How can we get more oxytocin?!?

How can we get more oxytocin?!?
• No…we don’t have any in our pockets to pass out to you 
• Dangers of artificial oxytocin administration: • Envy • Gloating • Ethnocentrism • Out-group hate • Epigenetic modifications

How can we get more oxytocin?!?
• Social bonds (family, friends, partners, strangers, pets) • Feeling love and trust • Physical contact (massage, hugs, spooning, intimacy)

Cultivate compassion and love for others
• Be compassionate and loving towards others spreads the oxytocin around • Being good to others is also good for you!

Cultivate compassion and love for yourself
• Self-compassion relates to:
• • • • • Lower stress and depression Better coping and stress regulation* Better health* Jillian Garrison Better sleep* More prosocial traits*
Dr. Kristin Neff

Cultivating compassion for others and yourself will lead to a more prosocial and healthier society
“Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
-Pema Chodron

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful