Empathy refers to the ability to perceive and share another person’s affective state. Much neuroimaging evidence suggests that observing others’ suffering and pain elicits activations of the anterior insular and the anterior cingulate cortices associated with subjective empathetic responses in the observer. However, these observations do not provide causal evidence for the respective roles of anterior insular and anterior cingulate cortices in empathetic pain. Therefore, whether these regions are ‘necessary’ for empathetic pain remains unknown. Herein, we examined the perception of others’ pain in patients with anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex lesions whose locations matched with the anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex clusters identified by a meta-analysis on neuroimaging studies of empathetic pain perception. Patients with focal anterior insular cortex lesions displayed decreased discrimination accuracy and prolonged reaction time when processing others’ pain explicitly and lacked a typical interference effect of empathetic pain on the performance of a pain-irrelevant task. In contrast, these deficits were not observed in patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions. These findings reveal that only discrete anterior insular cortex lesions, but not anterior cingulate cortex lesions, result in deficits in explicit and implicit pain perception, supporting a critical role of anterior insular cortex in empathetic pain processing. Our findings have implications for a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses characterized by prominent deficits in higher-level social functioning.
anterior cingulate cortex; anterior insular cortex; empathy; meta-analysis; necessity
Variations in neural circuitry, inherited or acquired, may underlie important individual differences in thought, feeling, and action patterns. Here, we used task-free connectivity analyses to isolate and characterize two distinct networks typically coactivated during functional MRI tasks. We identified a “salience network,” anchored by dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) and orbital frontoinsular cortices with robust connectivity to subcortical and limbic structures, and an “executive-control network” that links dorsolateral frontal and parietal neocortices. These intrinsic connectivity networks showed dissociable correlations with functions measured outside the scanner. Prescan anxiety ratings correlated with intrinsic functional connectivity of the dACC node of the salience network, but with no region in the executive-control network, whereas executive task performance correlated with lateral parietal nodes of the executive-control network, but with no region in the salience network. Our findings suggest that task-free analysis of intrinsic connectivity networks may help elucidate the neural architectures that support fundamental aspects of human behavior.
fMRI; functional connectivity; anterior cingulate; insula; salience; anxiety
Phantom limb pain is experienced by nearly 50 - 80% of the patients following limb amputation. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is a part of the limbic system that is an essential component in mediating the affective and emotional component of pain responses. To explore the role of ACC in the phantom limb pain, we recorded evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs), cortical network activity and electrophysiological properties of pyramid neurons in adult rat ACC before and after a third hind paw digit amputation using in vivo intracellular or extracellular recording and staining techniques. The recorded neurons were morphologically identified as pyramidal neurons in the ACC region. The spontaneous activity of ACC neurons significantly reduced with a more percentage of down state after amputation, this is correlated with a decrease in spontaneous spikes in medial thalamus. However, the amplitude of the evoked EPSPs was increased significantly shortly after amputation and lasted for up to 7 days. This potentiation is associated with an increase of paired-pulse facilitation (PPF), suggesting the involvement of presynaptic component in this process. No significant difference in membrane properties was observed after amputation. On the other hand, administration of Complete Freund’s Adjuvant (CFA) into the hind paw, a model of inflammatory pain, induced the potentiation of EPSPs in ACC neurons at 7 days after injection. These results demonstrate that digit amputation induced a long-lasting potentiation of synaptic transmission and decrease of cortical network activity in ACC in rats, which might contribute to the phantom limb pain.
Phantom pain; cortex; pyramidal neurons; EPSPs; in vivo; intracellular recording
Effective estimation of the salience of environmental stimuli underlies adaptive behavior, while related aberrance is believed to undermine rational thought processes in schizophrenia. A network including bilateral frontoinsular cortex (FIC) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) has been observed to respond to salient stimuli using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). To test the hypothesis that activity in this salience network (SN) is less discriminately modulated by contextually-relevant stimuli in schizophrenia than in healthy individuals, fMRI data were collected in 20 individuals with schizophrenia and 13 matched controls during performance of a modified monetary incentive delay (MID) task. After quantitatively identifying spatial components representative of the FIC and dACC features of the SN, two principal analyses were conducted. In the first, modulation of SN activity by salience was assessed by measuring response to trial outcome. First-level general linear models were applied to individual-specific time-courses of SN activity identified using spatial independent component analysis (ICA). This analysis revealed a significant salience-by-performance-by-group interaction on the best-fit FIC component's activity at trial outcome, whereby healthy individuals but not individuals with schizophrenia exhibited greater distinction between the response to hits and misses in high salience trials than in low salience trials. The second analysis aimed to ascertain whether SN component amplitude differed between the study groups over the duration of the experiment. Independent-samples T-tests on back-projected, percent-signal-change scaled SN component images importantly showed that the groups did not differ in the overall amplitude of SN expression over the entire dataset. These findings of dysregulated but not decreased SN activity in schizophrenia provide physiological support for mechanistic conceptual frameworks of delusional thought formation.
schizophrenia; salience; cortical networks; fMRI; reward
Suicide is the most important incident in psychiatric disorders. Psychological pain and empathy to pain involves a neural network that involves the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the anterior insula (AI). At the neuronal level, little is known about how complex emotions such as shame, guilt, self-derogation and social isolation, all of which feature suicidal behavior, are represented in the brain. Based on the observation that the ACC and the AI contain a large spindle-shaped cell type, referred to as von Economo neuron (VEN), which has dramatically increased in density during human evolution, and on growing evidence that VENs play a role in the pathophysiology of various neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, psychosis and dementia, we examined the density of VENs in the ACC of suicide victims. The density of VENs was determined using cresyl violet-stained sections of the ACC of 39 individuals with psychosis (20 cases with schizophrenia, 19 with bipolar disorder). Nine subjects had died from suicide. Twenty specimen were available from the right, 19 from the left ACC. The density of VENs was significantly greater in the ACC of suicide victims with psychotic disorders compared with psychotic individuals who died from other causes. This effect was restricted to the right ACC. VEN density in the ACC seems to be increased in suicide victims with psychosis. This finding may support the assumption that VEN have a special role in emotion processing and self-evaluation, including negative self-appraisal.
von Economo neurones (VEN) are bipolar neurones located in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the frontoinsular cortex (FI), areas affected early in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), in which VEN may constitute a selectively vulnerable cellular population.
A previous study has shown a selective loss of VEN in FTD above other neurones in the ACC of FTD. The aim of this study was to confirm this finding in a larger cohort, using a different methodology, and to examine VEN loss in relation to neuropathological severity and molecular pathology.
VEN and neighbouring neurones (NN) were quantified in layers Va and Vb of the right dorsal ACC in 21 cases of bvFTD, 10 cases of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and 10 non-demented controls (NDC).
A marked VEN reduction was seen in all FTD cases. In the neuropathologically early cases of FTD (n = 13), VEN/10 000 NN was significantly reduced by 53% compared with NDC (P < 0.001) and 41% compared with AD (P = 0.019), whereas AD patients showed a non-significant 30% reduction of VEN/10 000 NN compared with NDC. VEN reduction was present in all protein pathology subgroups.
In conclusion, this study confirms selective sensitivity of VEN in FTD and suggests that VEN loss is an early event in the neurodegenerative process.
anterior cingulate cortex; frontotemporal dementia; frontotemporal lobar degeneration; von Economo neurones
Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) erodes complex social–emotional functions as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsula (FI) degenerate, but the early vulnerable neuron within these regions has remained uncertain. Previously, we demonstrated selective loss of ACC von Economo neurons (VENs) in bvFTD. Unlike ACC, FI contains a second conspicuous layer 5 neuronal morphotype, the fork cell, which has not been previously examined. Here, we investigated the selectivity, disease-specificity, laterality, timing, and symptom relevance of frontoinsular VEN and fork cell loss in bvFTD. Blinded, unbiased, systematic sampling was used to quantify bilateral FI VENs, fork cells, and neighboring neurons in 7 neurologically unaffected controls (NC), 5 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and 9 patients with bvFTD, including 3 who died of comorbid motor neuron disease during very mild bvFTD. bvFTD showed selective FI VEN and fork cell loss compared with NC and AD, whereas in AD no significant VEN or fork cell loss was detected. Although VEN and fork cell losses in bvFTD were often asymmetric, no group-level hemispheric laterality effects were identified. Right-sided VEN and fork cell losses, however, correlated with each other and with anatomical, functional, and behavioral severity. This work identifies region-specific neuronal targets in early bvFTD.
Alzheimer's disease; behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia; fork cell; frontoinsula; von Economo neuron
A growing body of work demonstrates that the brain responds similarly to physical and social injury. Both experiences are associated with activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula. This dual functionality of the dACC and anterior insula underscores the evolutionary importance of maintaining interpersonal bonds. Despite the weight that evolution has placed on social injury, the pain response to social rejection varies substantially across individuals. For example, work from our lab demonstrated that the brain's social pain response is moderated by attachment style: anxious-attachment was associated with greater intensity and avoidant-attachment was associated with less intensity in dACC and insula activation. In an attempt to explain these divergent responses in the social pain network, we propose the optimal calibration hypothesis, which posits variation in social rejection in early life history stages shifts the threshold of an individual's social pain network such that the resulting pain sensitivity will be increased by volatile social rejection and reduced by chronic social rejection. Furthermore, the social pain response may be exacerbated when individuals are rejected by others of particular importance to a given life history stage (e.g., potential mates during young adulthood, parents during infancy and childhood).
social pain; social rejection; life history; attachment style; anterior cingulate cortex; anterior insula
People experience the feeling of the missing body part long after it has been removed after amputation are known as phantom limb sensations. These sensations can be painful, sometimes becoming chronic and lasting for several years (or called phantom pain). Medical treatment for these individuals is limited. Recent neurobiological investigations of brain plasticity after amputation have revealed new insights into the changes in the brain that may cause phantom limb sensations and phantom pain. In this article, I review recent progresses of the cortical plasticity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a critical cortical area for pain sensation, and explore how they are related to abnormal sensory sensations such as phantom pain. An understanding of these alterations may guide future research into medical treatment for these disorders.
anterior cingulate cortex; long-term potentiation; long-term depression; phantom pain; amputation; mice
The medial thalamic parafascicular nucleus (PF) and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) are implicated in the processing and suppression of the affective dimension of pain. The present study evaluated the functional interaction between PF and rACC in mediating the suppression of pain affect in rats following administration of morphine or carbachol (acetylcholine agonist) into PF. Vocalizations that occur following a brief noxious tailshock (vocalization afterdischarges) are a validated rodent model of pain affect, and were preferentially suppressed by injection of morphine or carbachol into PF. Vocalizations that occur during tailshock were suppressed to a lesser degree, whereas, spinal motor reflexes (tail flick and hindlimb movements) were only slightly suppressed by injection of carbachol into PF and unaffected by injection of morphine into PF. Blocking glutamate receptors in rACC (NMDA and non-NMDA) by injecting D-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate (AP-5) or 6-Cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione disodium (CNQX) produced dose-dependent antagonism of morphine-induced increases in vocalization thresholds. Carbachol-induced increases in vocalization thresholds were not affected by injection of either glutamate receptor antagonist into rACC. The results demonstrate that glutamate receptors in the rACC contribute to the suppression of pain affect produced by injection of morphine into PF, but not to the suppression of pain affect generated by intra-PF injection of carbachol.
parafascicular nucleus; pain; morphine; carbachol; glutamate; rat
Neuroimaging studies consistently report activity in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in conditions of high cognitive demand, leading to the view that ACC plays a crucial role in the control of cognitive processes. According to one prominent theory, the sensitivity of ACC to task difficulty reflects its role in monitoring for the occurrence of competition, or conflict, between responses in order to signal the need for increased cognitive control. However, a contrasting theory proposes that ACC is the recipient rather than source of monitoring signals, and that ACC activity observed in relation to task demand reflects the role of this region in learning about the likelihood of errors. Response conflict and error likelihood are typically confounded, making the theories difficult to distinguish empirically. The present research therefore used detailed computational simulations to derive contrasting predictions regarding ACC activity and error rate as a function of response speed. The simulations demonstrated a clear dissociation between conflict and error likelihood: fast response trials are associated with low conflict but high error likelihood, whereas slow response trials show the opposite pattern. Using the N2 component as an index of ACC activity, an EEG study demonstrated that when conflict and error likelihood are dissociated in this way, ACC activity tracks conflict and is negatively correlated with error likelihood. These findings support the conflict-monitoring theory and suggest that, in speeded decision tasks, ACC activity reflects current task demands rather than the retrospective coding of past performance.
performance monitoring; reinforcement learning; speed-accuracy trade-off; EEG; cognitive coordination; executive
Dysfunctions in theory of mind and empathic abilities have been suggested as core symptoms in major psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and autism. Since self monitoring, perspective taking and empathy have been linked to prefrontal (PFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) function, neurotransmitter variations in these areas may account for normal and pathological variations of these functions. Converging evidence indicates an essential role of glutamatergic neurotransmission in psychiatric diseases with pronounced deficits in empathy. However, the role of the glutamate system for different dimensions of empathy has not been investigated so far.
Absolute concentrations of cerebral glutamate in the ACC, left dorsolateral PFC and left hippocampus were determined by 3-tesla proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) in 17 healthy individuals. Three dimensions of empathy were estimated by a self-rating questionnaire, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Linear regression analysis showed that dorsolateral PFC glutamate concentration was predicted by IRI factor “perspective taking” (T = −2.710, p = 0.018; adjusted alpha-level of 0.017, Bonferroni) but not by “empathic concern” or “personal distress”. No significant relationship between IRI subscores and the glutamate levels in the ACC or left hippocampus was detected.
This is the first study to investigate the role of the glutamate system for dimensions of theory of mind and empathy. Results are in line with recent concepts that executive top-down control of behavior is mediated by prefrontal glutamatergic projections. This is a preliminary finding that needs a replication in an independent sample.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), situated in the caudal part of the medial prefrontal cortex, is involved in monitoring on-going behavior pertaining to memory of previously learned outcomes. How ACC information interacts with the medial temporal lobe (MTL) memory system is not well understood. The present study used a multitiered approach to address two questions on the interactions between the ACC and the parahippocampal cortices in the rhesus monkey: 1) What are the presynaptic characteristics of ACC projections to the parahippocampal cortices? 2) What are the postsynaptic targets of the pathway and are there laminar differences in innervation of local excitatory and inhibitory systems? Labeled ACC terminations were quantified in parahippocampal areas TH and TF and a cluster analysis showed that boutons varied in size, with a population of small (≤ 0.97 μm) and large (>0.97 μm) terminations that were nearly evenly distributed in the upper and deep layers. Exhaustive sampling as well as unbiased stereological techniques independently showed that small and large boutons were about evenly distributed within cortical layers in the parahippocampal cortex. Synaptic analysis of the pathway, performed at the electron microscope (EM) showed that while most of the ACC projections formed synapses with excitatory neurons, a significant proportion (23%) targeted presumed inhibitory classes with a preference for parvalbumin (PV+) inhibitory neurons. These findings suggest synaptic mechanisms that may help integrate signals associated with attention and memory.
Anterior Cingulate; Parahippocampal Cortex; Non-Human Primate; Parvalbumin; Calbindin; Triple-Labeling Immunohistochemisty
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsular cortex (FI) have been implicated in processing information across a variety of domains, including those related to attention and emotion. However, their role in rapid information processing, for example, as required for timely processing of salient stimuli, is not well understood. Here, we designed an emotional face priming paradigm and employed functional magnetic resonance imaging to elucidate their role in these mechanisms. Target faces with either neutral or fearful emotion were briefly primed by either neutral or fearful faces, or by blank ovals. Activation in the pregenual ACC and the FI, together with other regions, such as the amygdala, were preferentially activated in response to fearful face priming, suggesting that these regions are involved in the rapid processing of salient facial emotional information.
anterior cingulate cortex; emotion; fMRI; frontoinsular cortex; priming
Cortical areas including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are important for pain and pleasure. Recent studies using genetic and physiological approaches have demonstrated that the investigation of basic mechanism for long-term potentiation (LTP) in the ACC may reveal key cellular and molecular mechanisms for chronic pain in the cortex. Glutamate N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the ACC are critical for the induction of LTP, including both NR2A and NR2B subunits. However, cellular and molecular mechanisms for the expression of ACC LTP have been less investigated. Here, we report that the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor subunit, GluA1 but not GluA2 contributes to LTP in the ACC using genetic manipulated mice lacking GluA1 or GluA2 gene. Furthermore, GluA1 knockout mice showed decreased extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation in the ACC in inflammatory pain models in vivo. Our results demonstrate that AMPA receptor subunit GluA1 is a key mechanism for the expression of ACC LTP and inflammation-induced long-term plastic changes in the ACC.
Our recent work showed that close relationships result in shared cognitive and neural representations of the self and one’s mother in collectivistic individuals (Zhu et al., 2007, Neuroimage, 34, 1310–7). However, it remains unknown whether close others, such as mother, father and best friend, are differentially represented in collectivistic brains. Here, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a trait judgment task, we showed evidence that, while trait judgments of the self and mother generated comparable activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate (ACC) of Chinese adults, trait judgments of mother induced greater MPFC/ACC activity than trait judgments of father and best friend. Our results suggest that, while neural representations of the self and mother overlapped in the MPFC/ACC, close others such as mother, father and best friend are unequally represented in the MPFC/ACC of collectivistic brains.
close other; self; medial prefrontal cortex; anterior cingulate; fMRI
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and lateral prefrontal (LPFC) cortex are brain regions important to executive cognitive functions (ECF). We determined ACC and LPFC function in 23-day abstinent cocaine abusers using positron emission tomography (PET H215O) during performance of a modified version of the Stroop Task. Cocaine abusers showed less activation than non-drug-using comparison subjects in the left ACC and the right LPFC and greater activation in the right ACC. Average amount of cocaine used per week was negatively correlated with activity in the rostral ACC and right LPFC. Disruption of ECF in substance abusers could interfere with attempts to stop drug use and undermine treatment. Since impairment in ECF may be a common feature of various neuropsychiatric disorders, these findings have applicability beyond the neurobiology of addiction.
Human empathy is not merely a resonance with others’ physical condition, but is modulated by social factors. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the present study demonstrated an increased brain empathic response to others in pain when they received no rather than a large reward, with increments of the ACC, aMCC, insula and postcentral gyrus in the pain matrix and temporoparietal junction. Thus, pain target’s financial situation modulated brain empathic responses in the pain matrix based on an understanding of the situation pain target faces.
empathy; pain; monetary reward; aMCC; insula
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays an important role in higher brain functions including learning, memory, and persistent pain. Long-term potentiation of excitatory synaptic transmission has been observed in the ACC after digit amputation, which might contribute to plastic changes associated with the phantom pain. Here we report a long-lasting membrane potential depolarization in ACC neurons of adult rats after digit amputation in vivo. Shortly after digit amputation of the hind paw, the membrane potential of intracellularly recorded ACC neurons quickly depolarized from ~-70 mV to ~-15 mV and then slowly repolarized. The duration of this amputation-induced depolarization was about 40 min. Intracellular staining revealed that these neurons were pyramidal neurons in the ACC. The depolarization is activity-dependent, since peripheral application of lidocaine significantly reduced it. Furthermore, the depolarization was significantly reduced by a NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801. Our results provide direct in vivo electrophysiological evidence that ACC pyramidal cells undergo rapid and prolonged depolarization after digit amputation, and the amputation-induced depolarization in ACC neurons might be associated with the synaptic mechanisms for phantom pain.
The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is known to play a crucial role in pain modulation and has shown a strong interaction with anterior cingulate cortex in previous functional imaging studies. We investigated the intrinsic functional connectivity of PAG using resting fMRI data from 100 subjects. The results showed that PAG is functionally connected to ACC (rostral and pregenual ACC) and also rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM), forming a core ACC-PAG-RVM network for pain modulation even no pain stimulus is applied. The comparison between genders showed that for the contrast of female minus male, significant difference was observed at mid-cingulate cortex; for the contrast of male minus female, significant differences were observed at left medial orbital prefrontal cortex, and uncus; right insula /operculum and prefrontal cortex. We believe eluciation of this Intrinsic PAG network duing the resting state will enhance our physiological and pathological understanding of the development and maintenance of chronic pain states.
periaqueductal gray; PAG; pain; fMRI; resting state; functional connectivity
Rejection sensitivity is the heightened tendency to perceive or anxiously expect disengagement from others during social interaction. There has been a recent wave of neuroimaging studies of rejection. The aim of the current review was to determine key brain regions involved in social rejection by selectively reviewing neuroimaging studies that employed one of three paradigms of social rejection, namely social exclusion during a ball-tossing game, evaluating feedback about preference from peers and viewing scenes depicting rejection during social interaction. Across the different paradigms of social rejection, there was concordance in regions for experiencing rejection, namely dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), subgenual ACC and ventral ACC. Functional dissociation between the regions for experiencing rejection and those for emotion regulation, namely medial prefrontal cortex, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and ventral striatum, was evident in the positive association between social distress and regions for experiencing rejection and the inverse association between social distress and the emotion regulation regions. The paradigms of social exclusion and scenes depicting rejection in social interaction were more adept at evoking rejection-specific neural responses. These responses were varyingly influenced by the amount of social distress during the task, social support received, self-esteem and social competence. Presenting rejection cues as scenes of people in social interaction showed high rejection sensitive or schizotypal individuals to under-activate the dorsal ACC and VLPFC, suggesting that such individuals who perceive rejection cues in others down-regulate their response to the perceived rejection by distancing themselves from the scene.
Social distance; Gyrus cinguli; Prefrontal cortex; Social support
The extracellular signal-regulated kinase (Erk) activity contributes to synaptic plasticity, a key mechanism for learning, memory and chronic pain. Although the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been reported as an important cortical region for neuronal mechanisms underlying the induction and expression of chronic pain, it has yet to be investigated whether or not Erk activity in the ACC may be affected by peripheral injury or in chronic pain state. In the present study, we use adult rat animal models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain and demonstrate that Erk signaling pathway in the ACC is potently activated after peripheral tissue or nerve injury. Furthermore, we demonstrate that mechanical allodynia significantly activated Erk activity at synaptic sites at two weeks after the injury. We propose a synaptic model for explaining the roles of Erk activity during different phases of chronic pain. Our findings suggest that cortical activation of Erk may contribute to both induction and expression of chronic pain.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays an important role in emotion, and studies in animals have shown changes in ACC structure with early life stress. The purpose of this study was to measure volume of the ACC in PTSD.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure ACC volume in 8 subjects with abuse-related PTSD and 13 healthy subjects without PTSD. ACC volume included Brodmann’s area [BA] 24 and 32.
Right ACC volume in PTSD patients was significantly smaller than in non-PTSD subjects.
These results are consistent with smaller ACC volume in PTSD.
Posttraumatic stress disorder; Anterior cingulate; Magnetic resonance; Volumetry; Brodmann’s area
Choosing an appropriate response in an uncertain and varying world is central to adaptive behaviour. The frequent activation of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in a diverse range of tasks has lead to intense interest in and debate over its role in the guidance and control of performance. Here, we consider how this issue can be informed by a series of studies considering the ACC's role in more naturalistic situations where there is no single certain correct response and the relationships between choices and their consequences vary. A neuroimaging study of response switching demonstrates that dorsal ACC is not simply concerned with self-generated responses or error monitoring in isolation, but is instead involved in evaluating the outcome of choices, positive or negative, that have been voluntarily chosen. By contrast, an interconnected part of the orbitofrontal cortex is shown to be more active when attending to consequences of actions instructed by the experimenter. This dissociation is explained with reference to the anatomy of these regions in humans as demonstrated by diffusion weighted imaging. Lesions to a corresponding ACC region in monkeys has no effect on animals' ability to detect or immediately correct errors when response contingencies reverse, but renders them unable to sustain appropriate behaviour due to an impairment in the ability to integrate over time their recent history of choices and outcomes. Taken together, this implies a prominent role for the ACC within a distributed network of regions that determine the dynamic value of actions and guide decision making appropriately.
Research on empathy for pain has provided evidence of an empathic bias toward racial ingroup members. In this study, we used for the first time the “minimal group paradigm” in which participants were assigned to artificial groups and required to perform pain judgments of pictures of hands and feet in painful or non-painful situations from self, ingroup, and outgroup perspectives. Findings showed that the mere categorization of people into two distinct arbitrary social groups appears to be sufficient to elicit an ingroup bias in empathy for pain.
empathy for pain; ingroup bias; social categorization; minimal group paradigm