Queen's University

Cross-modal representations of first-hand and vicarious pain, disgust and fairness in insular and cingulate cortex

Figure 1 from research project by Dr. Anita Tusche, professor at Queen's UniversityThe anterior insula (AI) and mid-anterior cingulate cortex (mACC) have repeatedly been implicated in first-hand and vicarious experiences of pain, disgust and unfairness. However, it is debated whether these regions process different aversive events through a common modality-independent code, reflecting the shared unpleasantness of the experiences or through independent modality-specific representations.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we subjected 19 participants (and 19 confederates) to equally unpleasant painful and disgusting stimulations, as well as unfair monetary treatments. Multivoxel pattern analysis identified modality-independent activation maps in the left AI and mACC, pointing to common coding of affective unpleasantness, but also response patterns specific for the events’ sensory properties and the person to whom it was addressed, particularly in the right AI.

Our results provide evidence of both functional specialization and integration within AI and mACC, and support a comprehensive role of this network in processing aversive experiences for self and others. (Read More)