Background: Subgenual cingulate cortex (SCC) responses to self-blaming emotion-evoking stimuli were previously found in individuals prone to self-blame with and without a history of major depressive disorder (MDD). This suggested SCC activation reflects self-blaming emotions such as guilt, which are central to models of MDD vulnerability.
Method: Here, we re-examined these hypotheses in an independent larger sample. A total of 109 medication-free participants (70 with remitted MDD and 39 healthy controls) underwent fMRI whilst judging self- and other-blaming emotion-evoking statements. They also completed validated questionnaires of proneness to self-blaming emotions including those related to internal (autonomy) and external (sociotropy) evaluation, which were subjected to factor analysis.
Results: An interaction between group (remitted MDD v. Control) and condition (self- v. other-blame) was observed in the right SCC (BA24). This was due to higher SCC signal for self-blame in remitted MDD and higher other-blame-selective activation in Control participants. Across the whole sample, extracted SCC activation cluster averages for self- v. other-blame were predicted by a regression model which included the reliable components derived from our factor analysis of measures of proneness to self-blaming emotions. Interestingly, this prediction was solely driven by autonomy/self-criticism, and adaptive guilt factors, with no effect of sociotropy/dependency.
Conclusions: Despite confirming the prediction of SCC activation in self-blame-prone individuals and those vulnerable to MDD, our results suggest that SCC activation reflects blame irrespective of where it is directed rather than selective for self. We speculate that self-critical individuals have more extended SCC representations for blame in the context of self-agency.