Gender differences in neural-behavioral response to self-observation during a novel fMRI social stress task

Mary R. Lee, Kelsey Cacic, Catherine H. Demers, Maleeha Haroon, Stephen Heishman, Daniel W. Hommer, David H. Epstein, Thomas J. Ross, Elliot A. Stein, Markus Heilig, Betty Jo Salmeron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neural correlates of response to psychosocial stress and gender differences therein are difficult to model experimentally as this type of stressor is difficult to induce in a brain imaging environment. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a behavioral paradigm that reliably induces moderate levels of stress was thus modified for the MRI environment. To determine the neurobehavioral basis of gender differences in response to observing oneself under social evaluative stress, 26 subjects (14 females) performed the TSST while being videotaped. During fMRI scanning, subjects were shown alternating video clips of two CONDITIONS: SELF or a same-sex OTHER performing the TSST. Subjects rated their stress level immediately after the video clips. GENDER differences in the [SELF-OTHER] contrast were analyzed. There was a GENDER×CONDITION interaction such that only women reported increased subjective stress during video feedback of their TSST session. A whole brain analysis (SELF vs. OTHER) showed activation in the bilateral insula, inferior, middle and superior frontal gyri. Greater recruitment was seen among males in some of these same areas in the context of significantly lower stress ratings. Activation of areas involved in inhibitory control and sensory awareness might contribute to the significantly lower stress ratings in males. Understanding these gender differences is relevant to disorders of stress and self-concept.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-263
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • FMRI
  • Imaging
  • Social function
  • Social threat
  • Stress
  • Trier Social Stress Test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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