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PLoS One. 2008 Aug 13;3(8):e2939. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002939.

A common anterior insula representation of disgust observation, experience and imagination shows divergent functional connectivity pathways.

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Section on Integrative Neuroimaging, Cognitive Brain Disorders Branch, National Institutes of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


Similar brain regions are involved when we imagine, observe and execute an action. Is the same true for emotions? Here, the same subjects were scanned while they (a) experience, (b) view someone else experiencing and (c) imagine experiencing gustatory emotions (through script-driven imagery). Capitalizing on the fact that disgust is repeatedly inducible within the scanner environment, we scanned the same participants while they (a) view actors taste the content of a cup and look disgusted (b) tasted unpleasant bitter liquids to induce disgust, and (c) read and imagine scenarios involving disgust and their neutral counterparts. To reduce habituation, we inter-mixed trials of positive emotions in all three scanning experiments. We found voxels in the anterior Insula and adjacent frontal operculum to be involved in all three modalities of disgust, suggesting that simulation in the context of social perception and mental imagery of disgust share a common neural substrates. Using effective connectivity, this shared region however was found to be embedded in distinct functional circuits during the three modalities, suggesting why observing, imagining and experiencing an emotion feels so different.

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