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Gelotophobia and the brain: neural correlates during social signal processing

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Kreifelts, B., Wiegand, A., Ethofer, T., Brück, C., Jacob, H., Erb, M., et al. (2022). Gelotophobia and the brain: neural correlates during social signal processing. Poster presented at Alpine Brain Imaging Meeting (ABIM 2022), Champéry, Switzerland.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-DC22-9
Laughter is a frequent social signal with a predominantly positive emotional connotation. Beyond social inclusion, it can also communicate social exclusion. Interindividually, the perception of laughter is variable and can be phobic in extreme cases. This phobia, termed gelotophobia, is defined as the specific fear of being laughed at. First clinical studies indicate an increased co-occurrence of this phobia with various psychiatric disorders and corroborate a relationship with social anxiety. However, the neural representation of this fear remains unexplored to date. We report a first fMRI study delineating the neural representation of gelotophobia during voice and face processing in 67 individuals. The results revealed positive correlations between the severity of gelotophobic symptoms and voice-preferential responses in the right temporal voice area (TVA), a central node of the voice processing system, and in the left amygdala. In contrast, face-preferential responses were not associated with gelotophobia. The correlation between gelotophobia and voice-preferential responses in the TVA remained significant after accounting for general as well as social anxiety or depressive symptoms. In contrast, in the amygdala the association of voice-preferential responses with gelotophobia was not significantly dissociable from that with social anxiety. Taken together, our study offers a first account of the neural representation of gelotophia and additionally highlights the central role of voices and voice processing for this condition and its neural underpinnings. Particularly, the response patterns of the right TVA point to a specific contribution of this voice processing area not attributable to symptoms of social or general anxiety or depression.