Research Article: How embarrassing! The behavioral and neural correlates of processing social norm violations

Date Published: April 25, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Janna Marie Bas-Hoogendam, Henk van Steenbergen, Tanja Kreuk, Nic J. A. van der Wee, P. Michiel Westenberg, Kimmo Eriksson.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176326

Abstract

Social norms are important for human social interactions, and violations of these norms are evaluated partly on the intention of the actor. Here, we describe the revised Social Norm Processing Task (SNPT-R), a paradigm enabling the study of behavioral and neural responses to intended and unintended social norm violations among both adults and adolescents. We investigated how participants (adolescents and adults, n = 87) rate intentional and unintentional social norm violations with respect to inappropriateness and embarrassment, and we examined the brain activation patterns underlying the processing of these transgressions in an independent sample of 21 adults using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). We hypothesized to find activation within the medial prefrontal cortex, temporo-parietal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex in response to both intentional and unintentional social norm violations, with more pronounced activation for the intentional social norm violations in these regions and in the amygdala. Participants’ ratings confirmed the hypothesis that the three types of stories are evaluated differently with respect to intentionality: intentional social norm violations were rated as the most inappropriate and most embarrassing. Furthermore, fMRI results showed that reading stories on intentional and unintentional social norm violations evoked activation within the frontal pole, the paracingulate gyrus and the superior frontal gyrus. In addition, processing unintentional social norm violations was associated with activation in, among others, the orbitofrontal cortex, middle frontal gyrus and superior parietal lobule, while reading intentional social norm violations was related to activation in the left amygdala. These regions have been previously implicated in thinking about one’s self, thinking about others and moral reasoning. Together, these findings indicate that the SNPT-R could serve as a useful paradigm for examining social norm processing, both at the behavioral and the neural level.

Partial Text

In the present work, we describe the revised Social Norm Processing Task (SNPT-R), a paradigm enabling the study of behavioral and neural responses to intended and unintended social norm violations among both adults and adolescents. More specifically, we investigated how participants rate intentional and unintentional social norm violations with respect to inappropriateness and embarrassment, and we examined the brain activation patterns underlying the processing of these transgressions.

In the present study, we investigated the behavioral and neural correlates of social norm processing in two independent samples, using a new instrument: the revised Social Norm Processing Task (SNPT-R). The SNPT-R, based on a task originally developed by Berthoz and colleagues [17,18] and used by [19], entails three conditions, allowing the investigation of the neural responses and behavioral ratings related to processing 1) stories describing intentional violations of social norms, 2) stories on unintentional violations of social norms, and 3) neutral social stories (Fig 1), in both adolescents and adults. We examined the behavioral ratings of the stories (concerning inappropriateness and embarrassment) in a sample of adolescents and adults (n = 87), and examined both the behavioral as well as the neural correlates of social norm processing using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) in an independent sample of 21 adults. Our overall aim was to replicate the results from previous versions of the SNPT [17–19] and to describe the characteristics of the SNPT-R in detail, in order to enable the use of this paradigm in future studies involving both healthy participants and patient populations. Findings are discussed below.

To conclude, the data presented here provide support for the use of the SNPT-R to investigate the behavioral and neural substrates of social norm processing. Intentional social norm violations were rated as more inappropriate and more embarrassing when compared to unintentional social norm violations, while reading stories describing these violations evoked activation within the frontal pole, the paracingulate gyrus and the superior frontal gyrus. Furthermore, processing unintentional social norm violations was associated with activation in, among others, the orbitofrontal cortex, middle frontal gyrus and superior parietal lobule, while reading intentional social norm violations was related to activation in the left amygdala. These regions have been previously implicated in thinking about one’s self, thinking about others and moral reasoning. These findings indicate that the SNPT-R could serve as a useful paradigm for examining social norm processing, both at the behavioral and neural level.

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176326