Empathy for pain engages both shared affective responses and self-other distinction. In this study, we addressed the highly debated question of whether neural responses previously linked to affect sharing could result from the perception of salient affective displays. Moreover, we investigated how the brain network involved in affect sharing and self-other distinction underpinned our response to a pain that is either perceived as genuine or pretended (while in fact both were acted for reasons of experimental control). We found stronger activations in regions associated with affect sharing (anterior insula, aIns, and anterior mid-cingulate cortex, aMCC) as well as with affective self-other distinction (right supramarginal gyrus, rSMG), in participants watching video clips of genuine vs. pretended facial expressions of pain. Using dynamic causal modeling (DCM), we then assessed the neural dynamics between the right aIns and rSMG in these two conditions. This revealed a reduced inhibitory effect on the aIns to rSMG connection for genuine compared to pretended pain. For genuine pain only, brain-to-behavior regression analyses highlighted a linkage between this inhibitory effect on the one hand, and pain ratings as well as empathic traits on the other. These findings imply that if the pain of others is genuine and thus calls for an appropriate empathic response, neural responses in the aIns indeed seem related to affect sharing and self-other distinction is engaged to avoid empathic over-arousal. In contrast, if others merely pretend to be in pain, the perceptual salience of their painful expression results in neural responses that are down-regulated to avoid inappropriate affect sharing and social support.
All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in the paper are present in the paper. Raw functional imaging and behavioral data are deposited at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4783235. Processed behavioral data and individual DCM parameters are accessible at https://github.com/Yili-Zhao/Genuine_pretended-pain-task.git. Unthresholded statistical maps are available at https://identifiers.org/neurovault.collection:9949.
- Yili Zhao
- Yili Zhao
- Claus Lamm
- Markus Rütgen
- Claus Lamm
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: Informed consent was obtained from all participants. For those participants whose images are to be published in eLife, consent to publish was obtained from each of them. More details can be found in Materials and Methods.The study was approved by the ethics committee of the Medical University of Vienna and was conducted in line with the latest version of the Declaration of Helsinki (2013).
- Muireann Irish, University of Sydney, Australia
© 2021, Zhao et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
The functional complementarity of the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) and optokinetic reflex (OKR) allows for optimal combined gaze stabilization responses (CGR) in light. While sensory substitution has been reported following complete vestibular loss, the capacity of the central vestibular system to compensate for partial peripheral vestibular loss remains to be determined. Here, we first demonstrate the efficacy of a 6-week subchronic ototoxic protocol in inducing transient and partial vestibular loss which equally affects the canal- and otolith-dependent VORs. Immunostaining of hair cells in the vestibular sensory epithelia revealed that organ-specific alteration of type I, but not type II, hair cells correlates with functional impairments. The decrease in VOR performance is paralleled with an increase in the gain of the OKR occurring in a specific range of frequencies where VOR normally dominates gaze stabilization, compatible with a sensory substitution process. Comparison of unimodal OKR or VOR versus bimodal CGR revealed that visuo-vestibular interactions remain reduced despite a significant recovery in the VOR. Modeling and sweep-based analysis revealed that the differential capacity to optimally combine OKR and VOR correlates with the reproducibility of the VOR responses. Overall, these results shed light on the multisensory reweighting occurring in pathologies with fluctuating peripheral vestibular malfunction.
Genuinely new discovery transcends existing knowledge. Despite this, many analyses in systems neuroscience neglect to test new speculative hypotheses against benchmark empirical facts. Some of these analyses inadvertently use circular reasoning to present existing knowledge as new discovery. Here, I discuss that this problem can confound key results and estimate that it has affected more than three thousand studies in network neuroscience over the last decade. I suggest that future studies can reduce this problem by limiting the use of speculative evidence, integrating existing knowledge into benchmark models, and rigorously testing proposed discoveries against these models. I conclude with a summary of practical challenges and recommendations.