Script-driven imagery of socially salient autobiographical memories in major depressive disorder
Cues of social rejection and affiliation represent proximal risk and protective factors in the onset and maintenance of depression. Such cues are thought to activate an evolutionarily primed neuro-cognitive alarm system, alerting the agent to the benefits of inclusion or the risk of social exclusion within social hierarchies focused on ensuring continued access to resources. In tandem, autobiographical memory is thought to be over-general and negatively biased in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) which can contribute to maintenance and relapse. How memories of social rejection and affiliation are experienced and processed in MDD remains unexplored. Eighteen participants with recurrent and chronic MDD and 18 never-depressed controls listened to and vividly revisited autobiographical social experiences in an ecologically valid script-driven imagery paradigm using naturalistic memory narratives in an fMRI paradigm. Memories of Social Inclusion and Social Rejection broadly activated a common network of regions including the bilateral insula, thalamus and pre/postcentral gyrus across both groups. However, having a diagnosis of MDD was associated with an increased activation of the right middle frontal gyrus irrespective of memory type. Changes in positive affect were associated with activity in the dorsal ACC in the MDD group and in the insular cortex of the Control group. Our findings add to the evidence for complex representations for both positive and negative social signals in MDD and suggest neural sensitivity in MDD towards any socially salient information as opposed to selective sensitivity towards negative social experiences.