Philipp Kanske (TUD) – Roland Zahn (King’s)

Alterations in social interactions, which disrupt the balance between social withdrawal and overfamiliarity, are a striking feature of both depression and bipolar disorder. These changes may represent both precursor and consequence of affective disorders, that is, they might increase vulnerability to develop a disorder, but also exacerbate during an episode of the illness. Specifically, the role of altered social behavior as a marker of vulnerability is, however, still poorly understood. The project aims at elucidating such pre-onset social behavior changes in affective disorders. We aim to elucidate alterations of the neural correlates of socio-affective and -cognitive processes that are associated with increased vulnerability to develop depression or bipolar disorder. We hypothesise that first-degree relatives of patients with an affective disorder show altered activation in the neural networks involved in representing social proximity and mentalizing with others. The second goal is to determine whether maladaptive forms of self-blame in social action tendencies are a primary vulnerability factor for depressive episodes in unipolar and bipolar mood disorders. Although, we have previously demonstrated that they predict secondary vulnerability to unipolar depressive episodes, it is unknown whether this is a scarring effect of previous episodes or occurs prior to the manifestation of depression. Our third goal is to probe subtle alterations in actual social interactions as a vulnerability marker for affective disorders. We hypothesise that first-degree relatives of patients with an affective disorder show alterations in their everyday social interactions. The project will be based on well-validated experimental approaches established at both transCampus sites and embedded in the respective labs of Roland Zahn and Philipp Kanske.


  • Schurz, M., Radua, J., Tholen, M. G., Maliske, L., Margulies, D. S., Mars, R. B., … & Kanske, P. (2021). Toward a hierarchical model of social cognition: A neuroimaging meta-analysis and integrative review of empathy and theory of mind. Psychological Bulletin, 147(3), 293.
  • Kanske, P., Schönfelder, S., Forneck, J., & Wessa, M. (2015). Impaired regulation of emotion: neural correlates of reappraisal and distraction in bipolar disorder and unaffected relatives. Translational Psychiatry, 5(1), e497-e497.
  • Lawrence, A. J., Stahl, D., Duan, S., Fennema, D., Jaeckle, T., Young, A. H., Dazzan, P., Moll, J., & Zahn, R. Neurocognitive measures of self-blame and risk prediction models of recurrence in major depressive disorder. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging (2021);

Skills/qualities required especially for this project:

  • Interest in working with people at risk for affective disorders, social neuroscience and neuroscience methodology.