Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Neural correlates of adaptive social responses to real-life frustrating situations: a functional MRI study

Atsushi Sekiguchi12*, Motoaki Sugiura23, Satoru Yokoyama2, Yuko Sassa4, Kaoru Horie5, Shigeru Sato6 and Ryuta Kawashima24

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Medical Neuroimage Analysis, Department of Community Medical Supports, Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization, Tohoku University, Seiryo-machi, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8575, Japan

2 Department of Functional Brain Imaging, IDAC, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

3 International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

4 Division of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, IDAC, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

5 The Graduate School of Language and Cultures, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan

6 Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-29

Published: 13 March 2013



Frustrating situations are encountered daily, and it is necessary to respond in an adaptive fashion. A psychological definition states that adaptive social behaviors are “self-performing” and “contain a solution.” The present study investigated the neural correlates of adaptive social responses to frustrating situations by assessing the dimension of causal attribution. Based on attribution theory, internal causality refers to one’s aptitudes that cause natural responses in real-life situations, whereas external causality refers to environmental factors, such as experimental conditions, causing such responses. To investigate the issue, we developed a novel approach that assesses causal attribution under experimental conditions. During fMRI scanning, subjects were required to engage in virtual frustrating situations and play the role of protagonists by verbalizing social responses, which were socially adaptive or non-adaptive. After fMRI scanning, the subjects reported their causal attribution index of the psychological reaction to the experimental condition. We performed a correlation analysis between the causal attribution index and brain activity. We hypothesized that the brain region whose activation would have a positive and negative correlation with the self-reported index of the causal attributions would be regarded as neural correlates of internal and external causal attribution of social responses, respectively.


We found a significant negative correlation between external causal attribution and neural responses in the right anterior temporal lobe for adaptive social behaviors.


This region is involved in the integration of emotional and social information. These results suggest that, particularly in adaptive social behavior, the social demands of frustrating situations, which involve external causality, may be integrated by a neural response in the right anterior temporal lobe.

Adaptive social behavior; Causal attribution; Anterior temporal lobe; Integration