This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at brain activity while
patients view pictures of people's faces that they are familiar with or have emotional
The functional MRI (fMRI) procedure allows researchers to "see the brain at work." It uses
the same powerful magnetic fields and weak electromagnetic radiation (radiowaves) as
standard structural MRI. However, functional MRI can also show areas of increased blood
flow, which relates to increased activity by brain cells.
This research study builds on previous studies that identified specific areas of the brain
that are activated by visual stimuli showing faces. However, previous research used
anonymous faces as stimuli. This study will use faces of individuals known to the patient.
There are three experiments that will be conducted in the study;
1. Experiment 1 will attempt to determine the effects of familiarity of the photographed
face on brain activity patterns. Patients will view familiar faces, the faces of close
friends and relatives, and the faces of famous people.
2. Experiment 2 will look at how maternal attachment affects the response to visual
stimuli. Mothers will view pictures of their first born child, as well as those of
familiar children to whom they are not related, unfamiliar children, and unfamiliar
3. Experiment 3 will explore the effects of interpersonal attachment and loss on response
to visual stimuli. In this experiment, bereaved spouses will view pictures of their
deceased spouse, those of living family members, and those of unfamiliar people.
This functional magnetic resonance imaging protocol uses a face recognition activation task
to ascertain how brain activation patterns differ depending on the subject's familiarity
with, and emotional attachment to, the person depicted in the visual stimulus. In a series
of studies, subjects will view unfamiliar and familiar (including personally familiar and
famous) faces; mothers will view pictures of their own child and those of familiar and
unfamiliar children; and bereaved and non-bereaved spouses will view pictures of their
spouse, other family members, and unfamiliar people. The use of emotionally significant
faces as activation stimuli may help to elucidate the neural circuitry underlying
interpersonal attachment and psychological responses to loss.
Subjects will be recruited through advertisements within Bethesda and surrounding
All subjects must be right-handed.
For experiments #1 and 2, subjects will be 20-40 years old.
For study #3, subjects will be 45-75 years old.
For experiment #2, all subjects will be mothers with a non-adopted child aged 6-12 years
For experiment #3, subjects in the bereaved group will have become spousally bereaved
within the past 6 months.
Subjects will be excluded if they have a history of significant medical disorders
(including learning disabilities, seizures, history of head trauma, hypertension, or
cerebrovascular disease) or psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse. (An
exception to this is that bereaved subjects in experiment #3 will not be excluded if they
meet DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder (non-psychotic), adjustment disorder
with depressed mood, or bereavement, as long as their current Hamilton-D score is less
Subjects will also be excluded if they take any prescribed medications (including birth
control pills), if they are pregnant, or if their vision is inadequate to see the visual
In addition, subjects in experiment #2 will receive a DICA-P (Diagnostic Interview for
Children and Adolescents, Parent Version), and will be excluded if their child meets
diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric illness.