Does low self-esteem enhance social pain? The relationship between trait self-esteem and anterior cingulate cortex activation induced by ostracism.
According to sociometer theory, self-esteem serves as a barometer of the extent to which individuals are socially included or excluded by others. We hypothesized that trait self-esteem would be related to social pain responsiveness, and we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to experimentally investigate this potential relationship. Participants (n = 26) performed a cyberball task, a computerized game of catch during which the participants were excluded from the game. Participants then rated the degree of social pain experienced during both inclusion in and exclusion from the game. Individuals with lower trait self-esteem reported increased social pain relative to individuals with higher trait self-esteem, and such individuals also demonstrated a greater degree of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex activation. A psychophysiological interaction analysis revealed a positive connectivity between the dorsal anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices for the lower trait self-esteem group, and a corresponding negative connectivity for the higher trait self-esteem group. Heightened dorsal anterior cortex activity and a corresponding connection with the prefrontal cortex might be one possible explanation for the greater levels of social pain observed experienced by individuals with low trait self-esteem.