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Your pains and my dangers: Linking empathy to shared predictive coding in the human anterior insula

English title Your pains and my dangers: Linking empathy to shared predictive coding in the human anterior insula
Applicant Vuilleumier Patrik
Number 138413
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Dépt des Neurosciences Fondamentales Faculté de Médecine Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Physiology : other topics
Start/End 01.02.2012 - 30.09.2015
Approved amount 305'803.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Physiology : other topics
Psychology

Keywords (5)

Brain imaging; Emotion; Empathy; Insula; Human

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

This project investigates the human brain circuits involved in empathy and understanding other people and their emotions. In particular, we study the role of the anterior insula, a cortical region that has been observed to activate both whilst feeling a given emotion and when observing someone else feeling the same emotion (especially pain). However, this region also activates in other emotional and motivational conditions unrelated to empathy and pain. Therefore, its exact function and nature of its activation during pain observation still remains to be fully understood. Our aims is to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with advanced statistical analysis to explore the nature of information represented in human anterior insula during different emotion perception, anticipation, and regulation conditions. In particular, we will test whether this brain area (and other interconnected regions) code for predictive signals of affective relevance or instead for specific somatic aspects of pain; and to which extent (or in which conditions) the same representations are shared for self (felt) pain and others’ (seen) pain. This work will not only contribute to reveal how humans are able to understand and share emotions in other people, but also shed light on insula functions.

 

 

 

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Pain management decisions in emergency hospitals are predicted by brain activity during empathy and error monitoring
Corradi-Dell’Acqua C., Foerster M., Sharvit G., Trueb L., Foucault E., Fournier Y., Vuilleumier P., Hugli O. (2019), Pain management decisions in emergency hospitals are predicted by brain activity during empathy and error monitoring, in British Journal of Anaesthesia, 123(2), e284-e292.
Sensory-specific predictive models in the human anterior insula
Sharvit Gil, Vuilleumier Patrik, Corradi-Dell'Acqua Corrado (2019), Sensory-specific predictive models in the human anterior insula, in F1000Research, 8, 164-164.
The good, the bad, and the suffering. Transient emotional episodes modulate the neural circuits of pain and empathy
Qiao-Tasserit Emilie, Corradi-Dell’Acqua Corrado, Vuilleumier Patrik (2018), The good, the bad, and the suffering. Transient emotional episodes modulate the neural circuits of pain and empathy, in Neuropsychologia, 116, 99-116.
Modality-specific effects of aversive expectancy in the anterior insula and medial prefrontal cortex
Sharvit Gil, Corradi-DellAcqua Corrado, Vuilleumier Patrik (2018), Modality-specific effects of aversive expectancy in the anterior insula and medial prefrontal cortex, in PAIN, 1-1.
What Determines Social Behavior? Investigating the Role of Emotions, Self-Centered Motives, and Social Norms
Corradi-Dell'Acqua Corrado, Koban Leonie, Leiberg Susanne, Vuilleumier Patrik (2016), What Determines Social Behavior? Investigating the Role of Emotions, Self-Centered Motives, and Social Norms, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 1-5.
Cross-modal representations of first-hand and vicarious pain, disgust and fairness in insular and cingulate cortex
Corradi-Dell’Acqua Corrado, Tusche Anita, Vuilleumier Patrik, Singer Tania (2016), Cross-modal representations of first-hand and vicarious pain, disgust and fairness in insular and cingulate cortex, in Nature Communications, 7, 10904-10904.
Cross-modal and modality-specific expectancy effects between pain and disgust.
Sharvit Gil, Vuilleumier Patrik, Delplanque Sylvain, Corradi-Dell' Acqua Corrado (2015), Cross-modal and modality-specific expectancy effects between pain and disgust., in Scientific reports, 5, 17487-17487.
Cognitive and affective theory of mind share the same local patterns of activity in posterior temporal but not medial prefrontal cortex
Corradi-Dell’Acqua Corrado, Hofstetter Christoph, Vuilleumier Patrik (2014), Cognitive and affective theory of mind share the same local patterns of activity in posterior temporal but not medial prefrontal cortex, in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(8), 1175-1184.
Integration of Error Agency and Representation of Others' Pain in the Anterior Insula
Koban Leonie, Corradi-Dell'Acqua Corrado, Vuilleumier Patrik (2013), Integration of Error Agency and Representation of Others' Pain in the Anterior Insula, in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(2), 258-272.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. T. Singer, University of Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Trop humain: souffrance et empathie Western Switzerland 2014

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
143764 A prospective brain imaging study of self-monitoring in motor conversion disorder 01.03.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The investigation of the neural underpinnings of empathy and, more generally, of those processes involved in understanding other people and their emotions, is a central and fascinating issue in cognitive and affective neurosciences. A number of pioneer studies in the last decade has suggested the existence of shared emotional representations in the human brain which are active both whilst feeling a given emotion and when observing someone else feeling the same emotion. The most consistent and extensively investigated case of shared emotional response concerns the anterior insula, typically active when feeling pain but also when seeing pain delivered to others. This groundbreaking research has also raised several new issues. In particular, although the human anterior insula is critically linked to empathy for pain, its exact function and nature of its activation during pain observation still remains to be fully understood. Further research is needed to (1) determine the predictive nature of representations in the anterior insula and their relation to specific somatic aspects of pain, (2) examine the extent of shared representations for self (felt) pain and others’ (seen) pain at a fine-grained neural level, and (3) identify factors that modulate the shared responses as a function of individual variables such as personal empathy skills and interpersonal relationships. The main purpose of this project is to carefully investigate the functional role of the anterior insula and related brain structures and, specifically, to address these three critical questions by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in healthy volunteers and applying novel experimental paradigms with advanced multivariate voxel pattern analysis (MVPA).We first plan to explore the predictive nature of pain representations in the anterior insula (AI). Previous studies reported enhanced insula activation when an arbitrary cue informs about the noxiousness of an upcoming stimulation. We will extend these results by investigating whether predictive representations in AI hold information about the specific somatic content of noxious situations. To this aim, we will measure brain responses and pain ratings to noxious sensations and preceding cues that are informative, not only about the presence of pain, but also about its modality (thermal vs mechanical). This manipulation will enable us to identify activation patterns associated with specific noxious sensations, and test whether these are also evoked by the presence of a context-relevant cue (prior to actual delivery) with the same voxel-by-voxel specificity. Second, we plan to test whether the (possibly predictive) representations of pain in AI (and other regions such as somatosensory cortex) are shared, that is, similarly activated when the person in pain is not oneself but someone else. Unlike previous studies demonstrating shared structures macroscopically (in terms of regional cluster overlaps), we will employ novel multivariate patterns analysis techniques, which can nowadays gather inference from fMRI data at the sub-voxel resolution. By testing whether representations of specific noxious sensation are indeed shared at a fine-grained neural level (voxel-by-voxel), including for specific somatic modality of pain (thermal vs mechanical), our study should provide unprecedented evidence for the existence of shared representations of pain, and furthermore reveal whether these are sufficiently specific to code for one particular kind of noxious event, and yet sufficiently general to be recruited irrespective of whether painful states concern oneself or another person. Alternatively, shared representations in AI might essentially code for pain and threat events (or their prediction), without distinguishing between the specific somatic modalities. Finally, in the third step of the project, we will assess whether the degree to which a representation in AI (or somatosensory areas) is shared with others might be modulated by contextual factors such as the intimacy with the other person, as well as by individual characteristics related to empathy skills in close interpersonal relationships that will be assessed by ecological procedure.Beyond scientific goals, our project is envisioned as a unique opportunity to create new links between core members of the NCCR Affective Sciences in Geneva and other researchers in psychology, which will serve to strengthen multidisciplinary exchanges and further promote research expertise on empathy-related processes at the national Swiss level. Altogether, this will promote a network of expertise in this field, and strengthen inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional exchanges of the NCCR.
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