, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 270-278

Vicarious responses to pain in anterior cingulate cortex: Is empathy a multisensory issue?

Abstract

Results obtained with functional magnetic resonance imaging show that both feeling a moderately painful pinprick stimulus to the fingertips and witnessing another person’s hand undergo similar stimulation are associated with common activity in a pain-related area in the right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Common activity in response to noxious tactile and visual stimulation was restricted to the right inferior Brodmann’s area 24b. These results suggest a shared neural substrate for felt and seen pain for aversive ecological events happening to strangers and in the absence of overt symbolic cues. In contrast to ACC 24b, the primary somatosensory cortex showed significant activations in response to both noxious and innocuous tactile, but not visual, stimuli. The different response patterns in the two areas are consistent with the ACC’s role in coding the motivational-affective dimension of pain, which is associated with the preparation of behavioral responses to aversive events.