Wanting What is Already Gone: Functional Imaging Differentiating Reward Components in Bereavement
AuthorMcConnell, Mairead H.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractComplicated grief, or persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a condition that affects approximately 10% of bereaved individuals and is marked by intense longing and yearning for the deceased. Little is known about the neurocognitive mechanisms contributing to this syndrome, but previous research suggests that reward pathways in the brain may play a role. The present study was designed with this theory in mind, aiming to understand reward processing in those experiencing complicated and non-complicated grief as well as to differentiate the "wanting" and "liking" phases of reward processing in bereavement. Twenty-five older adults were categorized based on grief severity into one of three groups: complicated grief (CG), non-complicated grief (NCG) and non-bereaved married controls (NB). Neural activation was examined using fMRI while participants viewed a countdown on the screen (anticipation) followed by a photo of their (living or deceased) spouse. There was no significantly differential activation between the three groups for the spouse v. stranger photo contrast, nor for anticipation period v. spouse photo. However, these two contrasts were also run separately in the three groups. Each group produced significant activation, in similar and distinct regions, primarily associated with emotion and visual processing. In addition, post-hoc analyses were conducted using self-reported yearning scores as a regressor across all bereaved participants, which revealed that greater symptoms of yearning predicted greater activation in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). This region of the brain has been previously linked to depression and suggests that symptoms of yearning may present an opportune place to intervene to improve outcomes in CG.
Degree ProgramGraduate College