Although the fear of being scrutinized by others in a social context is a key symptom in social anxiety disorder (SAD), the neural processes underlying the perception of scrutiny have not previously been studied by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We used fMRI to map brain activation during a perception-of-scrutiny task in 20 SAD patients and 20 controls. A multi-dimensional analytic approach was used. Scrutiny perception was mediated by activation of the medial frontal cortex, insula-operculum region and cerebellum, and the additional recruitment of visual areas and the thalamus in patients. Between-group comparison demonstrated significantly enhanced brain activation in patients in the primary visual cortex and cerebellum. Functional connectivity mapping demonstrated an abnormal connectivity between regions underlying general arousal and attention. SAD patients showed significantly greater task-induced functional connectivity in the thalamo-cortical and the fronto-striatal circuits. A statistically significant increase in task-induced functional connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and scrutiny-perception-related regions was observed in the SAD patients, suggesting the existence of enhanced behavior-inhibitory control. The presented data indicate that scrutiny perception in SAD enhances brain activity in arousal-attention systems, suggesting that fMRI may be a useful tool to explore such a behavioral dimension. © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
- Social phobia