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
fMRI; motivation-reward; behavioral inhibition; risk for substance abuse; ADHD
Existing evidence suggests that reward and attentional networks function in concert and that activation in one system influences the other in a reciprocal fashion; however, the nature of these influences remains poorly understood. We therefore developed a three-component task to assess the interaction effects of reward anticipation and conflict resolution on the behavioral performance and the activation of brain reward and attentional systems. Sixteen healthy adult volunteers aged 21–45 years were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing the task. A two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with cue (reward vs. non-reward) and target (congruent vs. incongruent) as within-subjects factors was used to test for main and interaction effects. Neural responses to anticipation, conflict, and reward outcomes were tested. Behaviorally there were main effects of both reward cue and target congruency on reaction time. Neuroimaging results showed that reward anticipation and expected reward outcomes activated components of the attentional networks, including the inferior parietal and occipital cortices, whereas surprising non-rewards activated the frontoinsular cortex bilaterally and deactivated the ventral striatum. In turn, conflict activated a broad network associated with cognitive control and motor functions. Interaction effects showed decreased activity in the thalamus, anterior cingulated gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus bilaterally when difficult conflict trials (e.g., incongruent targets) were preceded by reward cues; in contrast, the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex showed greater activation during congruent targets preceded by reward cues. These results suggest that reward anticipation is associated with lower activation in attentional networks, possibly due to increased processing efficiency, whereas more difficult, conflict trials are associated with lower activity in regions of the reward system, possibly because such trials are experienced as less rewarding.
Attention; brain reward system; fMRI; motivation; neuroimaging; neuroscience
Attentional dysfunction is among the most consistent observations of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the neural nature of this deficit in ASD is still unclear. In this study, we aimed to identify the neurobehavioral correlates of attentional dysfunction in ASD. We used the Attention Network Test-Revised and functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine alerting, orienting, and executive control functions, as well as the neural substrates underlying these attentional functions in unmedicated, high-functioning adults with ASD (n = 12) and matched healthy controls (HC, n = 12). Compared with HC, individuals with ASD showed increased error rates in alerting and executive control, accompanied by lower activity in the mid-frontal gyrus and the caudate nucleus for alerting, and by the absence of significant functional activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for executive control. In addition, greater behavioral deficiency in executive control in ASD was correlated with less functional activation of the ACC. These findings of behavioral and neural abnormalities in alerting and executive control of attention in ASD may suggest core attentional deficits, which require further investigation.
Alerting; anterior cingulate cortex; attentional networks; autism; executive control
To better understand the reward circuitry in human brain, we conducted activation likelihood estimation (ALE) and parametric voxel-based meta-analyses (PVM) on 142 neuroimaging studies that examined brain activation in reward-related tasks in healthy adults. We observed several core brain areas that participated in reward-related decision making, including the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), caudate, putamen, thalamus, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), bilateral anterior insula, anterior (ACC) and posterior (PCC) cingulate cortex, as well as cognitive control regions in the inferior parietal lobule and prefrontal cortex (PFC). The NAcc was commonly activated by both positive and negative rewards across various stages of reward processing (e.g., anticipation, outcome, and evaluation). In addition, the medial OFC and PCC preferentially responded to positive rewards, whereas the ACC, bilateral anterior insula, and lateral PFC selectively responded to negative rewards. Reward anticipation activated the ACC, bilateral anterior insula, and brain stem, whereas reward outcome more significantly activated the NAcc, medial OFC, and amygdala. Neurobiological theories of reward-related decision making should therefore distributed and interrelated representations of reward valuation and valence assessment into account.
meta-analysis; reward; nucleus accumbens; orbitofrontal cortex; anterior cingulate cortex; anterior insula
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
Cognitive reappraisal is a commonly used and highly adaptive strategy for emotion regulation that has been studied in healthy volunteers. Most studies to date have focused on forms of reappraisal that involve reinterpreting the meaning of stimuli and have intermixed social and non-social emotional stimuli. Here we examined the neural correlates of the regulation of negative emotion elicited by social situations using a less studied form of reappraisal known as distancing. Whole brain fMRI data were obtained as participants viewed aversive and neutral social scenes with instructions to either simply look at and respond naturally to the images or to downregulate their emotional responses by distancing. Three key findings were obtained accompanied with the reduced aversive response behaviorally. First, across both instruction types, aversive social images activated the amygdala. Second, across both image types, distancing activated the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), intraparietal sulci (IPS), and middle/superior temporal gyrus (M/STG). Third, when distancing one’s self from aversive images, activity increased in dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC), medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), lateral prefrontal cortex, precuneus and PCC, IPS, and M/STG, meanwhile, and decreased in the amygdala. These findings demonstrate that distancing from aversive social cues modulates amygdala activity via engagement of networks implicated in social perception, perspective-taking, and attentional allocation.
Emotion; Cognitive Reappraisal; Social Cognitive Neuroscience; Emotional Distancing; Emotion Regulation; fMRI
Despite the importance of cognitive control in many cognitive tasks involving uncertainty, the computational mechanisms of cognitive control in response to uncertainty remain unclear. In this study, we develop biologically realistic neural network models to investigate the instantiation of cognitive control in a majority function task, where one determines the category to which the majority of items in a group belong. Two models are constructed, both of which include the same set of modules representing task-relevant brain functions and share the same model structure. However, with a critical change of a model parameter setting, the two models implement two different underlying algorithms: one for grouping search (where a subgroup of items are sampled and re-sampled until a congruent sample is found) and the other for self-terminating search (where the items are scanned and counted one-by-one until the majority is decided). The two algorithms hold distinct implications for the involvement of cognitive control. The modeling results show that while both models are able to perform the task, the grouping search model fit the human data better than the self-terminating search model. An examination of the dynamics underlying model performance reveals how cognitive control might be instantiated in the brain for computing the majority function.
cognitive control; uncertainty; majority function; algorithms; computational modeling; neural networks
Emotional instability is a defining feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD), yet little is understood about its underlying neural correlates. One possible contributing factor to emotional instability is a failure to adequately employ adaptive cognitive regulatory strategies such as psychological distancing.
To determine whether there are differences in neural dynamics underlying this control strategy, between BPD patients and healthy volunteers (HC’s), BOLD fMRI signals were acquired as 18 BPD and 16 HC subjects distanced from or simply looked at negative and neutral pictures depicting social interactions. Contrasts in signal between distance and look condition were compared between groups to identify commonalities and differences in regional activation.
BPD patients show a different pattern of activation compared to HC subjects when looking at negative vs. neutral pictures. When distancing vs. looking at negative pictures, both groups showed decreased negative affect in rating and increased activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, areas near/along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate/precuneus regions. However, the BPD group showed less BOLD signal change in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and IPS, less deactivation in the amygdala and greater activation in the superior temporal sulcus and superior frontal gyrus.
BPD and HC subjects display different neural dynamics while passively viewing social emotional stimuli. In addition, BPD patients do not engage the cognitive control regions to the extent that HC’s do when employing a distancing strategy to regulate emotional reactions, which may be a factor contributing to the affective instability of BPD.
Emotion; Cognitive Reappraisal; Social Cognitive Neuroscience; Psychological Distancing; Emotion Regulation; fMRI
The frontoinsular cortex (FI) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are known to be involved in empathy for others’ pain. However, the functional roles of FI and ACC in empathetic responses have not yet been clearly dissociated in previous studies. In this study, participants viewed color photographs depicting human body parts (hands or feet) in painful or non-painful situations and performed either pain judgment (painful/non-painful) or laterality judgment (left/right) of the body parts. We found that activation of FI, rather than ACC, showed significant increase for painful compared to non-painful images, regardless of the task requirement. These findings suggest a clear functional dissociation between FI and ACC in which FI is more domain-specific than ACC in processing of empathy for pain.
empathy; fMRI; insula; anterior cingulate cortex; pain; Emotion
One current conceptualization of attention subdivides it into functions of alerting, orienting, and executive control. Alerting describes the function of tonically maintaining the alert state and phasically responding to a warning signal. Automatic and voluntary orienting are involved in the selection of information among multiple sensory inputs. Executive control describes a set of more complex operations that includes monitoring and resolving conflicts in order to control thoughts or behaviors. Converging evidence supports this theory of attention by showing that each function appears to be subserved by anatomically distinct networks in the brain and differentially innervated by various neuromodulatory systems. Although much research has been dedicated to understanding the functional separation of these networks in both healthy and disease states, the interaction and integration among these networks still remain unclear. In this study, we aimed to characterize possible behavioral interaction and integration in healthy adult volunteers using a revised attentional network test (ANT-R) with cue-target interval and cue validity manipulations. We found that whereas alerting improves overall response speed, it exerts negative influence on executive control under certain conditions. A valid orienting cue enhances but an invalid cue diminishes the ability of executive control to overcome conflict. The results support the hypothesis of functional integration and interaction of these brain networks.
attention; attentional networks; alerting; orienting; executive control
Brain imaging genetic research involves a multitude of methods and spans many traditional levels of analysis. Given the vast permutations among several million common genetic variants with thousands of brain tissue voxels and a wide array of cognitive tasks that activate specific brain systems, we are prompted to develop specific hypotheses that synthesize converging evidence and state clear predictions about the anatomical sources, magnitude and direction (increases vs. decreases) of allele- and task-specific brain activity associations. To begin to develop a framework for shaping our imaging genetic hypotheses, we focus on previous results and the wider imaging genetic literature. Particular emphasis is placed on converging evidence that links system-level and biochemical studies with models of synaptic function. In shaping our own imaging genetic hypotheses on the development of Attention Networks, we review relevant literature on core models of synaptic physiology and development in the anterior cingulate cortex.
Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions. Recent studies have revealed that alexithymia is associated with less activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region shown to play a role in cognitive and emotional processing. However, few studies have directly investigated the cognitive domain in relation to alexithymia to examine whether alexithymic trait is related to less efficient voluntary control.
Methodology/ Principal Findings
We examined the relationship between alexithymic trait and voluntary control in a group of healthy volunteers. We used the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) to measure alexithymic trait. Additionally, we examined state and trait voluntary control using the revised Attention Network Test (ANT-R) and the Adult Temperament Questionnaire (ATQ), respectively. Alexithymic trait was positively correlated with the overall reaction time of the ANT-R, and negatively correlated with the Effortful Control factor of the ATQ.
Our results suggest that alexithymic trait is associated with less efficient voluntary control.
Voluntary control of information processing is crucial to allocate resources and prioritize the processes that are most important under a given situation; the algorithms underlying such control, however, are often not clear. We investigated possible algorithms of control for the performance of the majority function, in which participants searched for and identified one of two alternative categories (left or right pointing arrows) as composing the majority in each stimulus set. We manipulated the amount (set size of 1, 3, and 5) and content (ratio of left and right pointing arrows within a set) of the inputs to test competing hypotheses regarding mental operations for information processing. Using a novel measure based on computational load, we found that reaction time was best predicted by a grouping search algorithm as compared to alternative algorithms (i.e., exhaustive or self-terminating search). The grouping search algorithm involves sampling and resampling of the inputs before a decision is reached. These findings highlight the importance of investigating the implications of voluntary control via algorithms of mental operations.