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Testing a Neurobiological Susceptibility to Social Context Model Linking Neural Reward Processing and Social Stress to Social Anxiety in Adolescent Girls

Sequeira, Stefanie Lee (2023) Testing a Neurobiological Susceptibility to Social Context Model Linking Neural Reward Processing and Social Stress to Social Anxiety in Adolescent Girls. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the most common and impairing disorders in adolescence, particularly for girls, and remains one of the most challenging disorders to treat. A better understanding of the mechanisms supporting the development of SAD in adolescence is important for identifying new targets for intervention. Emerging research and theory rooted in a neurobiological susceptibility to social context framework suggest that interactions between neural reward function and adverse social environments are key for understanding the etiology of SAD. Backed by this research and theory, this project employed ecologically-valid methods at multiple levels of analysis to examine how perceptions of socially threatening interactions with peers in daily life (assessed using ecological momentary assessment) interact with neural reward function to confer risk for social anxiety symptoms in 129 girls (ages 11-13) at temperamental risk for SAD. In support of the primary hypothesis, activation in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) to the anticipation of socially rewarding (vs. neutral) feedback interacted with daily social threat at baseline to predict social anxiety symptom severity two years later. A positive association between social threat and social anxiety symptoms was only seen for girls with high BLA activity. Findings were specific to the BLA (vs. a more distributed social reward network) and to neural activation to social reward (vs. threat) anticipation. Unexpectedly, interactions between daily social threat and BLA activation to social reward anticipation at baseline also predicted symptoms of generalized anxiety and depression two years later, suggesting that these processes may serve as transdiagnostic risk factors for internalizing disorders. Findings suggest that socially threatening experiences are particularly detrimental during adolescence for youth highly sensitive to reward contingencies, potentially due to effects on reward learning processes. More generally, results add to a growing literature highlighting the importance of neural reward function in the development of social anxiety and other internalizing disorders during adolescence.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sequeira, Stefanie LeeSLS234@pitt.eduSLS234
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSilk, Jennifer Sjss4@pitt.edujss4
Committee MemberHanson, Jamie
Committee MemberForbes, Erika
Committee MemberLadouceur, Cecile
Committee MemberHallion, Lauren
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 14 April 2022
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 21 May 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 110
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: adolescence, social anxiety, reward, fMRI, ecological momentary assessment, social threat, peer relationships
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2023 01:16
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 01:16

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