A translational study of game-theoretic models of social exchanges: serotonin and vulnerability to depression

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Psychiatry

Abstract

Social isolation is known to be a risk factor for medical problems including depression. We also know that the process of recovering from depression is often accompanied by greater involvement with family, friends, and wider social groups. In this project, we will use a variety of techniques including functional brain imaging, pharmacology and game-theory to examine the brain mechanisms that allow people to establish stable patterns of reciprocally cooperative behaviour with a variety of social partners. We will investigate the role of a brain chemical called serotonin (which is important in depression) in learning socially supportive relationships. We will also test whether individuals who are at risk for recurring depression show problems in these forms of social learning. The results will help us link biological mechanisms underlying depression to the problems in social function that increase peoples risk of developing the disorder.

Technical Summary

Social isolation is a significant risk factor for the onset and maintenance of psychiatric illness particularly major depressive disorder (MDD). Conversely, recovery seems often to go along with increased contact with socially supportive networks and an increased value placed upon interactions with individuals within this network. Despite the acknowledged importance of impoverished social exchanges in MDD, there has been little research linking what we know about the neurobiology of the disorder to the social isolation that confers risk for MDD and is exacerbated by the onset of the illness. However, experimental research with animal models suggests that alterations in serotonin neurotransmission can have important effects on social behaviour. We, therefore, propose to use a combination of neuropsychology, pharmacology and functional brain imaging (fMRI) to investigate the role of serotonin in the performance of game-theoretic models of social exchanges as a way of understanding the biological processes that impair social interactions in MDD. Our overarching hypothesis is that serotonin plays a particular role in learning about the reward value of cooperative behaviour, both in the context of dyadic interactions with identified social partners and as part of larger social groups, and that serotonergic dysfunction in individuals with a history of MDD interferes with the development of supportive patterns of social relationships that might help protect against illness relapse.

Publications

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Bartz JA (2011) Serotonin and the neurochemistry of intimacy. in Biological psychiatry

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Campbell-Meiklejohn D (2011) Serotonin and dopamine play complementary roles in gambling to recover losses. in Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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Chandler RA (2009) Altered risk-aversion and risk-seeking behavior in bipolar disorder. in Biological psychiatry

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Gao S (2015) Second language feedback abolishes the "hot hand" effect during even-probability gambling. in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

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Rogers RD (2014) I want to help you, but I am not sure why: gaze-cuing induces altruistic giving. in Journal of experimental psychology. General

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Rogers RD (2011) The roles of dopamine and serotonin in decision making: evidence from pharmacological experiments in humans. in Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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Schmid Y (2015) Effects of methylphenidate and MDMA on appraisal of erotic stimuli and intimate relationships. in European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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Yip SW (2015) Hypoactivation of the ventral and dorsal striatum during reward and loss anticipation in antipsychotic and mood stabilizer-naive bipolar disorder. in Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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Yip SW (2012) Reduced subjective response to acute ethanol administration among young men with a broad bipolar phenotype. in Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

 
Title Relationship appraisal materials 
Description We have developed a new technique for investigating how people appraise the characteristics of other peoples' relationships as a way of understanding aspects of social function in depression. The material focuses upon inter-personal closeness and dominance. It consists in sets of pictures of heterosexual couples with and without physical contact and a set of associated rating items. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We have used this material in pharmacological experiment involving serotonergic agents and in experiments involving people at risk of depressive illnesses. We are writing up the first manuscript to be sent for publication. 
 
Description Gaze-cueing effects and social exchanges 
Organisation Bangor University
Department School of Psychology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have progressed earlier work looking at joint attention facilitates the development of implicit trust appraisals by demonstrating these effects in game-theoretic models of social exchanges in both healthy volunteers and individuals who have recovered from depression.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of gaze-cueing and trust appraisal know-how.
Impact This work is in submission with Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and in Psychological Medicine.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Gaze-cueing effects and social exchanges 
Organisation University of East Anglia
Department School of Social Work and Psychology UEA
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have progressed earlier work looking at joint attention facilitates the development of implicit trust appraisals by demonstrating these effects in game-theoretic models of social exchanges in both healthy volunteers and individuals who have recovered from depression.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of gaze-cueing and trust appraisal know-how.
Impact This work is in submission with Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and in Psychological Medicine.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Relationship appraisals following MDMA treatment 
Organisation University of Zurich
Department Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided them with research methods to assist their research in a collaborative arrangement.
Collaborator Contribution These researchers have taken our research materials (Bilderbeck et al, 2009) and wish to use them in a pharmacological experiment with healthy adults.
Impact None so far
Start Year 2011
 
Description Press activity describing our research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Following on from a Society of Neuroscience symposium in 2007, answered inquiries from radio and web media; wotking as an advisior for goverment body.

Press enquiries abuout papers published this year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007,2008,2009,2010,2011