6 March 2019: The Need to Belong and Depression: A View from the Brain

David T. Hsu
Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology
Stony Brook University

Humans depend on others for survival and emotional well-being. Social rejection – when one is not wanted or liked – is a direct threat to this need, leading to sadness, anxiety, anger, and impulsivity. Several psychiatric disorders stem from abnormal responses to rejection, including major depressive, social anxiety, borderline personality, and substance/alcohol use disorders, yet the neural regulation of rejection is poorly understood. In this talk, I will present laboratory models of social rejection and how they are used in combination with neuroimaging techniques to examine neural responses to social rejection. I will present our work using positron emission tomography (PET) to examine the endogenous opioid response to rejection and show that this response is reduced in depressed individuals, suggesting an inability to regulate social “pain.” I will also present our work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show abnormal neural responses to rejection in depressed women. Lastly, I will present work suggesting that the experience of rejection can be manipulated with neuromodulation, and discuss novel methods for identifying and treating those who are particularly sensitive to rejection.