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Characterization of reward-decision, social comparison based motivation, social cognition and resting-state metabolism between healthy participants and patients with OCD and substance abuse disorder


Human beings are intensely social creatures. Much of our well-being and quality of life is governed by our drive and ability to engage successfully in social interactions with others.

While the drive and motivation for social interactions have been related to network activity of the so-called 'reward system' of the brain (with the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) as a key structure), the ability to understand, explain and predict others’ behavior, i.e. social cognition, has been related to a wide-spread cortical network, the so-called 'social brain'.

However, these insights have been provided by neuroimaging studies, which are, up to now, mostly correlative in nature and have not been able to investigate causal relations within these two neurofunctional systems. Within this context, the introduction of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has not only substantially broadened the treatment options for neuropsychiatric disorders, but can potentially be used as a tool to investigate the causal role of brain systems in modulating affect, motivation, and behavior in social contexts.

In the project at hand, we will use DBS as a 'keyhole' for the investigation of the neural mechanisms of social reward processing and social cognition. To this end, we plan to use complex, novel and ecologically valid social tasks in a multimodal approach to assess behavioral performance and neural responses in psychiatric DBS patients who are known to show hypo- and hyperresponsivity of corresponding brain regions.

Hereby, it is hypothesized that DBS of the NAcc modulates the reward system and social cognition towards normalization in patients with psychiatric disorders.  We will compare the effect of the ON- versus the OFF-state of accumbal DBS on different aspects of social cognition but especially on reward-based decision-making in social contexts to study brain stimulation-induced changes both on the neural and behavioral level. To relate such measurements to indices of neuronal activity, ON/OFF effects will be recorded using [18F]FDG-PET brain imaging in DBS patients.


  • Prof. Dr. med. Jens Kuhn, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical Faculty
  • Assistant Prof. PhD Jan Crusius, Institute for Social Psychology I, Faculty of Human Sciences
  • Prof. Dr. med. Alexander Drzezga, Head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine, Medical Faculty
  • Priv.-Doz. Dr. med. Leonhard Schilbach, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry
  • M.Sc. Psych. Canan Beate Peisker, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical Faculty