Mirroring pain in the brain: emotional expression versus motor imitation.

TitleMirroring pain in the brain: emotional expression versus motor imitation.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuteursBudell, L, Kunz, M, Jackson, PL, Rainville, P
JournalPLoS One
Date Published2015
KeywordsAdolescent, Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Emotions, Facial Expression, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Pain, Pain Perception, Photic Stimulation, Psychomotor Performance, Young Adult

Perception of pain in others via facial expressions has been shown to involve brain areas responsive to self-pain, biological motion, as well as both performed and observed motor actions. Here, we investigated the involvement of these different regions during emotional and motor mirroring of pain expressions using a two-task paradigm, and including both observation and execution of the expressions. BOLD responses were measured as subjects watched video clips showing different intensities of pain expression and, after a variable delay, either expressed the amount of pain they perceived in the clips (pain task), or imitated the facial movements (movement task). In the pain task condition, pain coding involved overlapping activation across observation and execution in the anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula, and the inferior parietal lobule, and a pain-related increase (pain vs. neutral) in the anterior cingulate cortex/supplementary motor area, the right inferior frontal gyrus, and the postcentral gyrus. The 'mirroring' response was stronger in the inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus/superior temporal sulcus during the pain task, and stronger in the inferior parietal lobule in the movement task. These results strongly suggest that while motor mirroring may contribute to the perception of pain expressions in others, interpreting these expressions in terms of pain content draws more heavily on networks involved in the perception of affective meaning.

Alternate JournalPLoS ONE
PubMed ID25671563
PubMed Central IDPMC4324963