Physiological and behavioral reactivity to social exclusion: A functional infrared thermal imaging study in patients with psoriasis

Giorgia Ponsi, Bianca Monachesi, Vincenzo Panasiti, Salvatore Maria Aglioti, Maria Serena Panasiti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recent studies have shown that sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity can be heavily impacted not only by basic threats to survival but also by threats to social bonds. In this study we explored the behavioral and physiological consequences of social exclusion/inclusion in patients with psoriasis, a disease frequently associated with the experience of being ostracized and with deficient emotion regulation skills. We employed a virtual ball-tossing game (Cyberball) to induce the experience of social exclusion/inclusion. We then used a Trust Game to measure the effects of this social modulation on trust. During Cyberball, infrared thermal imaging was used to record participants’ facial temperature and thus obtain an online measure of SNS activation. Behavioral data showed that social exclusion shifted participants’ trust toward unfamiliar players who had not previously excluded them. Physiological data indicated that in control participants, social exclusion triggered higher SNS activation than inclusion. No such effect was found in patients with psoriasis, whose SNS activity was the same during inclusion as it was during exclusion, suggesting that they benefit less from inclusive experiences than control participants. In addition, in patients but not in controls, higher SNS activation during social exclusion was linked to higher monetary investment toward unfamiliar players, a result in keeping with the social reconnection hypothesis, according to which emotions triggered by social rejection can be regulated by investing in new social interactions. We also found that an increase in periorbital temperature is accompanied by a decrease in happiness ratings after social exclusion was experienced during the Cyberball game. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Previous research on emotional processes in psoriasis has mainly employed self-report measures. In this study we used thermal imaging to obtain an online measure of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity during social exclusion and tested how this experience influenced subsequent trust. We found that being included was a less positive experience for patients compared with controls and that SNS activity during exclusion had a stronger influence on subsequent trust in patients than in controls.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-49
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2018


  • Emotion regulation
  • Infrared thermal imaging
  • Psoriasis
  • Social exclusion
  • Social inclusion
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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