On the 25 of May 2013 I successfully defended my thesis with honours.

Social emotional actions can be roughly divided into social approach and avoidance. When control of these actions fails, well known psychopathologies can be observed, ranging from social anxiety to psychopathy. This important faculty, controlling social emotional behavior, can be experimentally elicited using the social approach-avoidance (AA-) task, in which participants have to respond to affective faces (happy, angry) with approach and avoidance movements. During the affect-incongruent conditions, participants have to control their automatic emotional tendencies (i.e. approach-happy and avoid-angry faces) in order to comply with task demands (to approach angry and avoid happy faces).

In a line of studies I showed that performance of this task evokes increased activity in the anterior portion of the prefrontal cortex (aPFC). I also investigated the causal relationship and involved networks using brain stimulation (TMS) in combination with fMRI, showing that the aPFC is crucial for control of emotional actions. This thesis discusses studies testing the influence of steroid hormone testosterone and variations of serotonin transporter gene on prefrontal-amygdala connectivity. These connectivity analyses, including dynamic causal modelling, suggest that down-regulation of the amygdala by the aPFC is critical in overriding automatic social approach-avoidance tendencies. Finally, novel results on the neuro-endocrine mechanisms during social emotional control of violent offenders diagnosed with psychopathy are presented and discussed.

Download my thesis here!

I also organised the symposium "In control. Regulating affective decisions and actions" for this special occasion. It was a great success!

Many thanks to everybody who contributed to making it a stimulating and inspiring symposium.

The pictures are now online! click here

For more information on the symposium, see the EPAN website.