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Published August 20, 2014 | Published
Journal Article Open

Anterior Insula Activity Reflects the Effects of Intentionality on the Anticipation of Aversive Stimulation


If someone causes you harm, your affective reaction to that person might be profoundly influenced by your inferences about the intentionality of their actions. In the present study, we aimed to understand how affective responses to a biologically salient aversive outcome administered by others are modulated by the extent to which a given individual is judged to have deliberately or inadvertently delivered the outcome. Using fMRI, we examined how neural responses to anticipation and receipt of an aversive stimulus are modulated by this fundamental social judgment. We found that affective evaluations about an individual whose actions led to either noxious or neutral consequences for the subject did indeed depend on the perceived intentions of that individual. At the neural level, activity in the anterior insula correlated with the interaction between perceived intentionality and anticipated outcome valence, suggesting that this region reflects the influence of mental state attribution on aversive expectations.

Additional Information

© 2014 the authors. For the first six months after publication SfN's license will be exclusive. Beginning six months after publication SfN's license will be non-exclusive and SfN grants the public the non-exclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the Work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/. Received March 19, 2014; revised June 22, 2014; accepted July 14, 2014. Author contributions: M.L. and J.P.O. designed research; M.L. and S.D. performed research; M.L. analyzed data; M.L. and J.P.O. wrote the paper. This work was supported by a Wellcome Trust grant and by support from the NIMH Conte Center for the Neurobiology of Social Decision Making (P50MH094258-01A1) to J.O.D. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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