Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Neural correlates of social exchanges during the Prisoner's Dilemma game in depression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


V. B. Gradin, A. Pérez, J. A. Macfarlane, I. Cavin, G. Waiter, E. B. Tone, B. Dritschel, A. Maiche, J. D. Steele

School/Research organisations


Background Depression is a disabling disorder that significantly impacts on the interpersonal functioning of individuals. However, little is known about the neural substrates of such difficulties. In the last few years neuroeconomics, which combines imaging with multiplayer behavioural economic paradigms, has been used to study the neural substrates of normal and abnormal interpersonal interactions. 

Method This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate neural activity in unmedicated depressed participants (n = 25) and matched healthy controls (n = 25). During scanning, participants played a behavioural economic game, the Prisoner's Dilemma. In this game, the participant and a co-player independently choose either to cooperate or not cooperate with each other. Results Depressed participants reported higher levels of negative feelings (betrayal, guilt) during the game than did controls. Neural activation was compared between 'imbalanced' events [when one of the players cooperated and the other defected ('CD' and 'DC')] and 'draw' events [when both players either cooperated or defected ('CC' and 'DD')]. Participants preferentially activated the anterior insula and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a region implicated in cognitive control and regulation of emotions. Importantly, compared to controls depressed participants showed reduced activation in the left DLPFC, with the extent of signal reduction correlating with increased self-report feelings of guilt associated with DC outcomes. 

Conclusions Our findings suggest that depression is associated with reduced activation of the DLPFC during social events that involve unreciprocated cooperation. This abnormality may underlie anomalies in cognitive control and top-down regulation of emotions during challenging social exchanges.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1289-1300
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date14 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

    Research areas

  • Depression, fMRI, Neuroeconomics, Prisoner's Dilemma

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Mood disorders in high-functioning autism: the importance of alexithymia and emotional regulation

    Morie, K. P., Jackson, S., Zhai, Z. W., Potenza, M. N. & Dritschel, B., Jul 2019, In : Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 49, 7, p. 2935-2945 11 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Misremembrance of things past: depression is associated with difficulties in the recollection of both specific and categoric autobiographical memories

    Hitchcock, C., Rodrigues, E., Rees, C., Gormley, S., Dritschel, B. & Dalgleish, T., Jul 2019, In : Clinical Psychological Science. 7, 4, p. 693-700 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. The influence of mood and attitudes towards eating on cognitive and autobiographical memory flexibility in female university students

    Mang, L., Ridout, N. & Dritschel, B., Nov 2018, In : Psychiatry Research. 269, p. 444-449 6 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Autobiographical memory specificity in response to verbal and pictorial cues in clinical depression

    Ridout, N., Dritschel, B., Matthews, K. & O'Carroll, R., 1 Jun 2016, In : Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 51, p. 109-115

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Profiles of visuospatial memory dysfunction in opioid exposed and dependent populations

    Baldacchino, A., Tolomeo, S., Balfour, D. & Matthews, K., May 2019, In : Psychological Medicine. 49, 7, p. 1174-1184 27 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Multifaceted impairments in impulsivity and brain structural abnormalities in opioid dependence and abstinence

    Tolomeo, S., Gray, S., Matthews, K., Steele, J. D. & Baldacchino, A., Oct 2016, In : Psychological Medicine. 46, 13, p. 2841-2853

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Abnormal brain responses to social fairness in depression: an fMRI study using the Ultimatum Game

    Gradin, V. B., Pérez, A., MacFarlane, J. A., Cavin, I., Waiter, G., Engelmann, J., Dritschel, B., Pomi, A., Matthews, K. & Steele, J. D., Apr 2015, In : Psychological Medicine. 45, 6, p. 1241-1251

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Impulsivity and opioid drugs: differential effects of heroin, methadone and prescribed analgesic medication

    Baldacchino, A., Balfour, D. J. K. & Matthews, K., Apr 2015, In : Psychological Medicine. 45, 6, p. 1167-1179 13 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 240593167