This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

An Experimental Investigation of the Neural Correlates of the Acquired Capability for Suicide




Willis, John

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Electrical and Computer Engineering


The high rate of fatal suicide attempts in men is a pressing issue as highlighted in the public conscious. The interpersonal–psychological theory of suicide has offered an explanation for the difference in suicidal behavior between men and women, suggesting that the desire to attempt suicide has separate constructs from the ability to commit suicide. In order for an individual to have suicidal desire and the acquired capability for suicide, in order to commit suicide. Higher levels of the acquired capability for suicide would explain the higher rate of fatal suicide attempts among men. In this study, we have attempted to analyze several constructs identified as possibly underlying the neural substrates involved in the acquired capability for suicide. Additionally, we compared the results of males and females in the hope of identifying possible regions that lead to the higher number of fatal suicides in men. The constructs analyzed were pain tolerance, emotional stoicism, fearlessness about death, and sensation seeking. Participants were asked to complete tasks designed to model theses constructs. Parametric modulation was used to better identify neural regions of interest. A group consisting of all male participants was compared against a group consisting of all female participants. In this comparison, we found that the premotor cortex and the cerebellum, regions which are involved in motor function, had significantly higher activation in males than females. This may support the higher rate of suicides in males over females. Future studies should perform this analysis in individuals in the population of interest and use a larger sample size.