The Compassionate Brain: Humans Detect Intensity of Pain from Another's Face

M. V. Saarela, Y. Hlushchuk, A. C. d. C. Williams, M. Schurmann, E. Kalso, R. Hari
2006 Cerebral Cortex  
Miiamaaria V. Saarela and Yevhen Hlushchuk have equal contribution to the paper Understanding another person's experience draws on "mirroring systems," brain circuitries shared by the subject's own actions/ feelings and by similar states observed in others. Lately, also the experience of pain has been shown to activate partly the same brain areas in the subjects' own and in the observer's brain. Recent studies show remarkable overlap between brain areas activated when a subject undergoes
more » ... sensory stimulation and when he/she observes others suffering from pain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that not only the presence of pain but also the intensity of the observed pain is encoded in the observer's brain-as occurs during the observer's own pain experience. When subjects observed pain from the faces of chronic pain patients, activations in bilateral anterior insula (AI), left anterior cingulate cortex, and left inferior parietal lobe in the observer's brain correlated with their estimates of the intensity of observed pain. Furthermore, the strengths of activation in the left AI and left inferior frontal gyrus during observation of intensified pain correlated with subjects' self-rated empathy. These findings imply that the intersubjective representation of pain in the human brain is more detailed than has been previously thought. Note: Statistical t(11) and P values are averaged across all voxels of a cluster and across all subjects. PS, precentral sulcus.
doi:10.1093/cercor/bhj141 pmid:16495434 fatcat:zevvrz34ffa4vhklc5ehoul6ma