Empathy for pain and touch in the human somatosensory cortex

Ilaria Bufalari, Taryn Aprile, Alessio Avenanti, Francesco Di Russo, Salvatore Maria Aglioti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

234 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although feeling pain and touch has long been considered inherently private, recent neuroimaging and neurophysiological studies hint at the social implications of this experience. Here we used somatosensory-evoked potentials (SEPs) to investigate whether mere observation of painful and tactile stimuli delivered to a model would modulate neural activity in the somatic system of an onlooker. Viewing video clips showing pain and tactile stimuli delivered to others, respectively, increased and decreased the amplitude of the P45 SEP component that reflects the activity of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1). These modulations correlated with the intensity but not with the unpleasantness of the pain and touch ascribed to the model or the aversion induced in the onlooker by the video clips. Thus, modulation of S1 activity contingent upon observation of others' pain and touch may reflect the mapping of sensory qualities of observed painful and tactile stimuli. Results indicate that the S1 is not only involved in the actual perception of pain and touch but also plays an important role in extracting somatic features from social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2553-2561
Number of pages9
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume17
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007

Fingerprint

Somatosensory Cortex
Touch
Pain
Somatosensory Evoked Potentials
Surgical Instruments
Touch Perception
Observation
Pain Perception
Interpersonal Relations
Neuroimaging
Emotions

Keywords

  • Mirror systems
  • Primary somatosensory cortex
  • Simulation theory
  • Social cognition
  • Somatosensory-evoked potentials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

Cite this

Empathy for pain and touch in the human somatosensory cortex. / Bufalari, Ilaria; Aprile, Taryn; Avenanti, Alessio; Di Russo, Francesco; Aglioti, Salvatore Maria.

In: Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 17, No. 11, 11.2007, p. 2553-2561.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Bufalari, Ilaria ; Aprile, Taryn ; Avenanti, Alessio ; Di Russo, Francesco ; Aglioti, Salvatore Maria. / Empathy for pain and touch in the human somatosensory cortex. In: Cerebral Cortex. 2007 ; Vol. 17, No. 11. pp. 2553-2561.
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