Lower Socioeconomic Position Is Associated with Greater Activity in and Integration within an Allostatic-Interoceptive Brain Network in Response to Affective Stimuli

Author: Gabriella M Alvarez1, Marc D Rudolph1, Jessica R Cohen1,2, Keely A Muscatell1,2
1 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
2 Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, Carrboro, NC.
Conference/Journal: J Cogn Neurosci
Date published: 2022 Feb 4
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01830. , Word Count: 265

Socioeconomic inequities shape physical health and emotional well-being. As such, recent work has examined the neural mechanisms through which socioeconomic position (SEP) may influence health. However, there remain critical gaps in knowledge regarding the relationships between SEP and brain function. These gaps include a lack of research on: (1) the association between SEP and brain functioning in later life, (2) relationships between SEP and functioning of the whole brain beyond specific regions of interest, and (3) how neural responses to positive affective stimuli differ by SEP. The current study addressed these gaps by examining the association between SEP (i.e., education, income) and neural responses to affective stimuli among 122 mid- to late-life adults. During MRI scanning, participants viewed 30 positive, 30 negative, and 30 neutral images; activation and network connectivity analyses explored associations between SEP and neural responses to these affective stimuli. Analyses revealed that those with lower SEP showed greater neural activity to both positive and negative images in regions within the allostatic-interoceptive network, a system of regions implicated in representing and regulating physiological states of the body and the external environment. There were no positive associations between SEP and neural responses to negative or positive images. In addition, graph-theory network analyses showed that individuals with lower SEP demonstrated greater global efficiency within the allostatic-interoceptive network and executive control network, across all task conditions. The findings suggest that lower SEP is associated with enhanced neural sensitivity to affective cues that may be metabolically costly to maintain over time and suggest a mechanism by which SEP might get "under the skull" to influence mental and physical well-being.

PMID: 35139207 DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_01830