Dr Roland Zahn

Researcher Bio

My lab's current research mainly focusses on understanding the cognitive-anatomical underpinnings of vulnerability to major depression and of inappropriate social behaviour in neuropsychiatric disorders.


Recent insights into the neurocognitive architecture of social knowledge and moral motivations have opened up new perspectives on these clinical conditions. Overlapping fronto-temporo-mesolimbic neural networks are involved in knowing about the needs of others or socio-cultural norms (i.e. social knowledge) as well as feeling motivated to act upon them (i.e. moral motivations). This complex neural system supports our ability to interpret our own as well as other people's behaviour and to guide our actions accordingly. One of the challenges that we face every day is the attribution of causal agency to ourselves (i.e. self-blame or -praise) or others (i.e. other-blame, or -praise). This attribution of causal agency determines how we feel about failure or success and this is of core importance to our overall affective state. Our recent work has aimed at identifying the neuroanatomical basis of self-blaming (guilt), other-blaming (indignation),  self-praising (pride), and other-praising (gratitude) feelings. We are currently applying these new insights to the understanding of vulnerability to major depression which is associated with overgeneralized self-blame and to the loss of the ability to anticipate self-blame in frontotemporal dementia.

My future research interests are to develop novel treatments for affective disorders based on these new insights, by using neurostimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation), fMRI-neurofeedback, as well as psychological interventions.

Selected Publications

  1. Social concepts are represented in the superior anterior temporal cortex. Zahn,Moll,Krueger,Huey,Garrido,Grafman. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Apr 10;104(15):6430-5. Epub 2007 Apr 2.

  2. Social conceptual impairments in frontotemporal lobar degeneration with right anterior temporal hypometabolism. Zahn,Moll,Iyengar,Huey,Tierney,Krueger,Grafman. Brain. 2009 Mar;132(Pt 3):604-16. doi: 10.1093/brain/awn343. Epub 2009 Jan 19.

  3. The Neural Basis of Human Social Values: Evidence from Functional MRI. Zahn,Moll,Paiva,Garrido,Krueger,Huey,Grafman. Cerebral Cortex February 2009;19:276--283

  4. The neural basis of human moral cognition. J Moll, R Zahn, R de Oliveira-Souza, F Krueger, J Grafman. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6 (10), 799-809

  5. Subgenual cingulate activity reflects individual differences in empathic concern. Zahn,de Oliveira-Souza,Bramati,Garrido,Moll. Neuroscience letters 457 (2), 107-110

  6. The cognitive neuroscience of moral emotions. Moll,De Oliveira-Souza,Zahn. Ann.NY.Acad.Sci 2008

  7. Guilt-selective functional disconnection of anterior temporal and subgenual cortices in major depressive disorder. S Green, MAL Ralph, J Moll, JFW Deakin, R Zahn. Archives of general psychiatry 69 (10), 1014-1021

  8. Self-blame–Selective Hyperconnectivity Between Anterior Temporal and Subgenual Cortices and Prediction of Recurrent Depressive Episodes. Karen E Lythe, Jorge Moll, Jennifer A Gethin, Clifford I Workman, Sophie Green, Matthew A Lambon Ralph, John FW Deakin, Roland Zahn. JAMA psychiatry 72 (11), 1119-1126