Pleasure, joy, and positive feelings – perception, experience, and modulation of positive affective states in healthy women and men
Donnerstag, 03.06.2021:
8:30 - 10:00

Chair der Sitzung: Lydia Kogler, Universitätsklinikum Tübingen
Chair der Sitzung: Bernadette von Dawans, Trier University
Ort: Hormones and emotions

Zusammenfassung der Sitzung

Perception and experience of positive, pleasurable, or joyful affective states is dysfunctional in many mental disorders. Considering these transdiagnostic reports, the thorough exploration of physiological and neural correlates of positive affective states in healthy women and men is essential to further understand their contribution to mental health and well-being. Our symposium brings together scientists from four international research institutions (Aarhus, Leipzig, Tübingen, Zürich) to present their research on different aspects of positive affective states and to increase the awareness for these states.

In more detail, the symposium discusses insights into sexual functioning in association with the CAG-repeat polymorphism, testosterone, and well-being in men’s health (Andreas Walther) as well as the neural correlates of reward processing and their potential modulation by selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors (escitalopram) in women and men (Carolin Lewis). It further outlines the empathy-related concept of kama muta and the physiological correlates of heartwarming feelings and being moved in women and men (Janis Zickfeld). Finally, the effects of positive self-instruction and self-praise on the neural, physiological, and subjective reactions to social evaluation in women will be characterized (Lydia Kogler).

Together, the symposium highlights the relevance of positive, pleasurable, and joyful affective states for mental health and well-being and depicts possible pharmacological and cognitive interventions to modulate their perception. The invited experts will discuss subjective, hormonal, physiological, and neural correlates of positive affective states and potential clinical implications to improve well-being.


Preservation of high sexual function into old age: Examining psychobiological protective factors in healthy middle-aged and older men

Andreas Walther, Ulrike Ehlert

Universität Zürich, Schweiz

Background: Sexuality is an important quality-of-life consideration until late life in both sexes (Hyde et al., 2012). Men, however, often exhibit an elevated sex drive as compared to women, which has been related to their elevated testosterone levels as well as psychological and cultural factors (Baumeister et al., 2001). Longitudinal changes in male-specific biological and psychological factors and their relation to sexual function have never been examined in parallel.

Methods: One hundred healthy middle-aged and older men were examined with regard to sexual function, testosterone levels, CAG-repeat length polymorphism of the androgen receptor, body composition, and psychosocial factors at baseline (2014-2015) and in a three-year follow-up (2017-2018). As relevant psychosocial factors related to sexual function in men, we measured self-identified masculinity, relationship satisfaction, body-related and general self-esteem, social support, trait resilience, and general mental health.

Analysis and expected results: Prediction models will be computed to evaluate psychobiological protective factors (baseline and change scores) preserving high sexual function in aging men. It is expected that testosterone change scores, but not baseline levels will predict maintenance of sexual function over a three-year period in men, while CAG-repeat length may emerge as important moderator of this association. Psychosocial factors will be examined in an exploratory way. Results will be presented at the conference.

A single dose of escitalopram blunts the response in neural correlates of punishment processing

Carolin Lewis

Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften, Deutschland

Psychological and neurocognitive approaches to depression consider negative biases of information processing to play a key role in maintaining symptoms of depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) show acute effects on the neural processing of negative bias in emotional processing in health and depression. Importantly, these effects on emotional processing are seen much earlier than changes in mood, which substantiates the hypothesis that reducing negative biases contributes and eventually leads to improvements in mood. A blunted hedonic response to rewards as well as enhanced sensitivity to punishment similarly describes a negative bias which is common in depression. Whether and how SSRIs also affect reward and punishment processing on a similarly rapid time-scale, however, remains unclear. Here, we investigated the effects of an acute and clinically relevant dose (20 mg) of the SSRI escitalopram on brain response during reward and punishment processing in healthy volunteers (9 women, 10 men). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants performed a well-established monetary reward task. Acute escitalopram administration reduced blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response during punishment feedback in the right thalamus and the right caudate head as compared to placebo. We did not detect any significant BOLD changes during reward feedback. Our findings extend theories of rapid SSRI-action on the neural processing of rewarding and aversive stimuli and suggest a specific and acute effect of escitalopram in the punishment neurocircuitry.

Tears of joy, aesthetic chills and heartwarming feelings: Physiological correlates of Kama Muta

Janis Zickfeld1, Patrícia Arriaga2, Beate Seibt3

1Aarhus University, Denmark; 2ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal; 3University of Oslo, Norway

Situations involving increased closeness or exceptional kindness are often labeled as moving or touching and individuals often report bodily symptoms, including tears, goosebumps, and warmth in the body. Recently, the kama muta framework has been proposed as a cross-cultural conceptualization of these experiences. Prior research on kama muta has mostly relied on subjective reports. Thus, our main goal of the present project was to examine the pattern of physiological responses to kama muta inducing videos and compare it to the patterns for the similar, though distinct emotions of sadness and awe. One hundred forty-four Portuguese and Norwegian participants were individually exposed to all three emotion conditions. Several psychophysiological indexes of the autonomic nervous system were collected continuously during exposure, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and electrodermal activity, facial EMG, skin temperature, as well as piloerection and lachrymation using cameras. Overall, the results partly replicated previous findings on being moved experiences and self-report studies. Strong self-reported experiences of kama muta were associated with increased phasic skin conductance, skin temperature, piloerection, and zygomaticus activity, while they were associated with reduced heart rate, respiration rate, and tonic skin conductance. The physiological profile of kama muta was successfully distinguished from sadness and awe, partly corroborating self-report evidence. We obtained no clear evidence of a kama muta association with the occurrence of lachrymation or heart rate variability. Our findings provide a systematic overview of psychophysiological response to experiences of kama muta, and help to inform future research on this emotion and positive emotions in general.

Yes, I can – effects of positive self-instruction on the subjective and neural correlates during social evaluation

Lydia Kogler1, Hannah Fandel1, Mäni L. Kogler2, Marina Krylova3, Julia Reichenberger4, Jens Blechert4, Carmen Morawetz5, Birgit Derntl1

1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Innovative Neuroimaging, Medical Faculty, University of Tübingen; 2Institute for Psychosomatics and Behavioural Therapy, Graz; 3Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Jena; 4Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Salzburg; 5Institute for Psychology, University of Innsbruck

In our daily lives we are permanently confronted with social evaluation, which might evoke anger, frustration and decrease self-esteem. Inner speech is a cognitive function with self-regulatory effects, for controlling e.g., affective reactions. However, the inner speech is often negative and evaluative, thereby inducing low self-esteem, and fostering anxiety and depression. With the current study we applied a cognitive intervention for positive self-instruction and self-praise to modulate subjective and neural reactions to positive and negative social feedback in 63 healthy women.

Results indicate an increase in social self-esteem in the intervention-group (n=33) compared to the control-group (n=30) and less subjective arousal during the social feedback paradigm after the intervention. This was accompanied by decreased anterior cingulate cortex activation in the intervention group. Furthermore, sex-of-evaluator-specific activation appeared for negative and positive evaluation: Following the intervention, amygdala activation was higher for negative evaluation by men in the control-group, which was not apparent in the intervention-group. Additionally, higher activation in the hippocampus appeared for positive evaluations by women in the intervention-group compared to the control-group after the intervention.

Thus, positive self-instruction and self-praise significantly improve self-esteem and subjective reactions to social evaluations. Furthermore, activation of neural regions associated with fear regulation and affective processing was altered, potentially reflecting self-regulatory processes. The intervention is a promising tool to increase self-esteem and beneficial subjective reactions to positive and negative social evaluations and seems to prompt neural self-regulatory processes.