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Phillips, Jennifer Elaine (2012) SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS, AMYGDALA REACTIVITY, AND SELECTIVE ATTENTION TO THREAT. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this study, a pathway through which low socioeconomic status (SES) might heighten risk for disorders of mood and affect via a social information-processing bias is investigated. Here, we examined whether measures of social status covary with attentional bias toward threat and with greater threat-related amygdala reactivity in a sample of healthy community volunteers. Participants were middle-aged men and women (30 – 55, M = 42.1 years; 41% female, 87% white) who participated in the second Adult Health and Behavior project (AHAB II). SES indices included objective (individuals’ education and income, parental education) and subjective (individuals rated themselves and their parents on the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status) indicators. Participants’ attentional bias toward threat was assessed using a visual probe-detection task, utilizing angry, fearful, happy, and neutral facial expressions from the Karolinska Directed Emotional Faces stimulus set. Blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed to investigate amygdala reactivity, using facial stimuli derived from the MacArthur Network Face stimulus set. Correlational analyses failed to show any relationship between SES and attentional bias for any of the affective stimuli. Linear regression analyses accounting for age, race, and sex showed lower education (β = -.116, SE = .056, p = .041) and lower composite SES (fear > shapes: β = -.142, SE = .059, p = .018; fear > neutral: β = -.122, SE = .058, p = .037) associated with higher left amygdala reactivity to fearful facial stimuli. No significant relationships between SES and amygdala reactivity were detected for the remaining SES indicators, and findings were limited only to the left amygdala relationship with fearful faces. Thus, our prediction of an inverse association between indices of social standing and heightened responses to threatening stimuli was largely unsupported by the results. Future investigations should include participants representing a broader range of age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic standing in order to more accurately characterize individuals’ responses to threat. Despite the shortcomings of the current study, these findings provide initial (albeit limited) evidence that heightened neurobiological responses to threat may be associated with lower SES.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Phillips, Jennifer Elainejep24@pitt.eduJEP24
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairManuck, Stephen manuck@pitt.eduMANUCK
Committee MemberJennings, J. Richardjenningsjr@upmc.eduINJENN
Committee MemberGianaros,
Committee MemberMarsland, Annamarsland@pitt.eduMARSLAND
Committee MemberVotruba-Drzal, Elizabethevotruba@pitt.eduEVOTRUBA
Date: 1 February 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 August 2011
Approval Date: 1 February 2012
Submission Date: 14 December 2011
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 149
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Socioeconomic status, amygdala reactivity, attentional bias
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2012 14:09
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2016 14:38


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