Front. Behav. Neurosci., 06 June 2016

Viridiana Mazzola1, Patrik Vuilleumier2, Leonardo Fazio3, Tiziana Lanciano4,5, Barbara Gelao3,  Teresa Popolizio4, Giampiero Arciero5,7,  Guido Bondolfi7*, Alessandro Bertolino3*

1Department of Neuroscience, University of Geneva, CH 2Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, Department of Neurology, University Hospital & Department of Neuroscience, Medical School University of Geneva, CH 3Group of Psychiatric Neuroscience, University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’, Italy 4Department of Education, Psychology, Communication, University of Bari, Bari, Italy 5Institute of Post-Rationalist Psychology IPRA, Rome, Italy 6 Department of Neuroradiology, “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” IRCCSS, San Giovanni Rotondo (FG), Italy  7Department of Mental Health and Psychiatry, University Hospital of Geneva, CH


Being in a social world requires an understanding of other people that is co-determined in its meaning by the situation at hand. Therefore, we investigated the underlying neural activation occurring when we encounter someone acting in angry or joyful situation. We hypothesized a dynamic interplay between the right insula, both involved in mapping visceral states associated with emotional experiences and autonomic control, and the bilateral superior temporal gyri (STG), part of the “social brain”, when facing angry vs. joyful situations. Twenty participants underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning session while watching video clips of actors grasping objects in joyful and angry situations. The analyses of functional connectivity, psychophysiological interaction (PPI) and dynamic causal modeling (DCM), all revealed changes in functional connectivity associated with the angry situation. Indeed, the DCM model showed that the modulatory effect of anger increased the ipsilateral forward connection from the right insula to the right STG, while it suppressed the contralateral one. Our findings reveal a critical role played by the right insula when we are engaged in angry situations. In addition, they suggest that facing angry people modulates the effective connectivity between these two nodes associated, respectively, with autonomic responses and bodily movements and human-agent motion recognition. Taken together, these results add knowledge to the current understanding of hierarchical brain network for social cognition.