Patients with ventromedial prefrontal lesions show an implicit approach bias to angry faces

Macià Buades-Rotger*, Anne Kristin Solbakk, Matthias Liebrand, Tor Endestad, Ingrid Funderud, Paul Siegwardt, Dorien Enter, Karin Roelofs, Ulrike M. Krämer, Clinical Scales

*Corresponding author for this work
6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Damage to the ventromedial PFC (VMPFC) can cause maladap-tive social behavior, but the cognitive processes underlying these behavioral changes are still uncertain. Here, we tested whether patients with acquired VMPFC lesions show altered approach– avoidance tendencies to emotional facial expressions. Thirteen patients with focal VMPFC lesions and 31 age-and gender-matched healthy controls performed an implicit approach– avoidance task in which they either pushed or pulled a joystick depending on stimulus color. Whereas controls avoided angry faces, VMPFC patients displayed an incongruent response pattern characterized by both increased approach and reduced avoidance of angry facial expressions. The approach bias was stronger in patients with higher self-reported impulsivity and disinhibition and in those with larger lesions. We further used linear ballistic accumulator modeling to investigate latent parameters underlying approach–avoidance decisions. Controls displayed negative drift rates when approaching angry faces, whereas VMPFC lesions abolished this pattern. In addition, VMPFC patients had weaker response drifts than controls during avoidance. Finally, patients showed reduced drift rate variability and shorter nondecision times, indicating impulsive and rigid decision-making. Our findings thus suggest that VMPFC damage alters the pace of evidence accumulation in response to social signals, eliminating a default, protective avoi-dant bias and facilitating a dysfunctional approach behavior.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume33
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1069-1081
Number of pages13
ISSN0898-929X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01.05.2021

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