Affective Response to a Loved One’s Pain: Insula Activity as a Function of Individual Differences

PLoS ONE 5(12): e15268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015268

Viridiana Mazzola1*, Valeria Latorre1,2, Annamaria Petito3, Nicoletta Gentili1,4, Leonardo Fazio5, Teresa Popolizio6, Giuseppe Blasi5, Giampiero Arciero1, Guido Bondolfi7

1 Istituto di Psicologia Post-Razionalista IPRA Rome, Rome, Italy, 2 Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences, University of Bari, Bari, Italy, 3 Institute of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, Department of Medical Sciences, University of Foggia, Foggia, Italy, 4 National Child and Deaf Family Service, South West London and St George’s NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom, 5 Psychiatric Neuroscience Group, Section on Mental Disorders, Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences, University of Bari, Bari, Italy, 6 Department of Neuroradiology, IRCCSS “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza”, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 7 Departement de Psychiatrie, Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneve, Geneve, Switzerland

Abstract 

Individual variability in emotion processing may be associated with genetic variation as well as with psychological predispositions such as dispositional affect styles. Our previous fMRI study demonstrated that amygdala reactivity was independently predicted by affective-cognitive styles (phobic prone or eating disorders prone) and genotype of the serotonin transporter in a discrimination task of fearful facial expressions. Since the insula is associated with the subjective evaluation of bodily states and is involved in human feelings, we explored whether its activity could also vary in function of individual differences. In the present fMRI study, the association between dispositional affects and insula reactivity has been examined in two groups of healthy participants categorized according to affective-cognitive styles (phobic prone or eating disorders prone). Images of the faces of partners and strangers, in both painful and neutral situations, were used as visual stimuli. Interaction analyses indicate significantly different activations in the two groups in reaction to a loved one’s pain: the phobic prone group exhibited greater activation in the left posterior insula. These results demonstrate that affective-cognitive style is associated with insula activity in pain empathy processing, suggesting a greater involvement of the insula in feelings for a certain cohort of people. In the mapping of individual differences, these results shed new light on variability in neural networks of emotion.

Citation: Mazzola V, Latorre V, Petito A, Gentili N, Fazio L, et al. (2010) Affective Response to a Loved One’s Pain: Insula Activity as a Function of Individual Differences. PLoS ONE 5(12): e15268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015268

Editor: Ben J. Harrison, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Received: August 3, 2010; Accepted: November 3, 2010; Published: December 16, 2010

Copyright: © 2010 Mazzola et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

* E-mail: neurolab@ipra.it