Behavioral inhibition system sensitivity enhances motor cortex suppression when watching fearful body expressions

  1. Vitale, Francesca 1
  2. Avenanti, Alessio 1
  3. Borgomaneri, Sara 1
  1. 1 University of Bologna

    University of Bologna

    Bolonia, Italia


Brain Structure and Function

ISSN: 1863-2653

Year of publication: 2017

Volume: 222

Issue: 7

Pages: 3267-3282

Type: Article

DOI: 10.1007/S00429-017-1403-5 GOOGLE SCHOLAR

More publications in: Brain Structure and Function


Cited by

  • Scopus Cited by: 27 (21-03-2023)
  • Web of Science Cited by: 27 (02-03-2023)

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Infuential theories suggest that a defensivebehavioral inhibition system (BIS) supports the inhibitionof action tendencies when facing potential threats. However, little is known about threat-related inhibitory mechanisms in humans and their relations to inter-individual differences in BIS sensitivity. To address this issue, we usedpaired-pulse TMS to investigate early human motor cortex(M1) responses to social signals of potential threats, likeanother’s fearful body posture. In two experiments, participants observed pictures of fearful and happy postures,and neutral postures that were either dynamic (in Exp1)or static (in Exp2). To test suppression of M1 excitatoryactivity, we assessed intracortical facilitation (ICF) in anearly phase of threat monitoring by administering TMSpulses at 100–125 ms from picture onset. We investigatedthe motor representation of hand and arm muscles that arediferentially involved in fexion, extension, and abduction.As a control, we also assessed corticospinal excitabilityand short intracortical inhibition. In both experiments, andindependently of the muscle, watching fearful bodies suppressed ICF relative to watching happy and non-emotional(dynamic or static) body expressions. Remarkably, greater fear-related ICF suppression was found in participants whoscored higher on a self-report questionnaire assessing BISsensitivity. These fndings suggest that observing fearfulbody language activates a defensive suppression of M1excitatory activity that is infuenced by the personality disposition to experience fear and anxiety when facing potential threats. This BIS-related motor suppression may havethe functional role of transiently suppressing action tendencies to promote threat monitoring and, ultimately, survival.

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