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Neural correlates of ostracism in transgender persons living according to their gender identity: a potential risk marker for psychopathology?

  • Sven C. Mueller (a1), Katrien Wierckx (a2), Sara Boccadoro (a1) and Guy T'Sjoen (a2)

Abstract

Background

Stigmatization in society carries a high risk for development of psychopathology. Transgender persons are at particularly high risk for such stigmatization and social rejection by others. However, the neural correlates of ostracism in this group have not been captured.

Method

Twenty transgender men (TM, female-to-male) and 19 transgender women (TW, male-to-female) already living in their gender identity and 20 cisgender men (CM) and 20 cisgender women (CW) completed a cyberball task assessing both exclusion and re-inclusion during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results

During psychosocial stress between-group differences were found in the dorsal and ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Patterns were consistent with sex assigned at birth, i.e. CW showed greater activation in dorsal ACC and IFG relative to CM and TW. During re-inclusion, transgender persons showed greater ventral ACC activity relative to CW, possibly indicating persistent feelings of exclusion. Functional connectivity analyses supported these findings but showed a particularly altered functional connectivity between ACC and lateral prefrontal cortex in TM, which may suggest reduced emotional regulation to the ostracism experience in this group. Depressive symptoms or hormonal levels were not associated with these findings.

Conclusion

The results bear implications for the role of social exclusion in development of mental health problems in socially marginalized groups.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Sven C. Mueller, E-mail: sven.mueller@ugent.be

References

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