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Editorial |

The Social Brain, Stress, and Psychopathology

Tor D. Wager, PhD1; Peter J. Gianaros, PhD2
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Boulder
2Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(6):622-624. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.288.
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Social discrimination can have pervasive effects on human health and performance. This notion is a major thread binding together findings in social psychology, health psychology, and epidemiology. From a psychiatric perspective, it may also be critical for a more complete etiological picture of psychopathology. Social influences can be subtle but powerful. For example, priming racial identity can influence physiological measures of threat and performance on benchmark tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test.1,2 As emphasized in the article by Akdeniz et al,3 ethnic minority immigrants are at greater risk than their native counterparts for schizophrenia,4 and this risk may extend to other mental and physical health disorders.5 To fully understand, prevent, and treat schizophrenia and other brain disorders, we need to understand the relationships between social context, stress, and brain health that cut across diverse psychiatric and neurological conditions.

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Figure.
Regions in the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex and Stress-Related Activation

A, The pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC) is part of a functional ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) zone that encompasses multiple cytoarchitectonic areas (colored and marked with Brodmann area numbers). The vmPFC is a core part of the default-mode network, whose activity is high at rest and is reduced during the performance of many cognitive tasks but increases above baseline in response to evaluative threat, self-referential processing, and other emotional challenges. dACC indicates dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. B, Relative activity increases with evaluative stress in migrants in the study by Akdeniz et al.3 C, Activity mediating the effects of evaluative stress on cardiovascular responses is shown.7

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