Disgust and the Insula: fMRI Responses to Pictures of Mutilation and Contamination

Department of Neuroscience, University of Florida, 100 Newell Drive, Gainesville, FL 32610-0256, USA.
Neuroreport (Impact Factor: 1.52). 11/2004; 15(15):2347-51. DOI: 10.1097/00001756-200410250-00009
Source: PubMed


Although previous functional brain imaging studies have found that the insula responds selectively to facial expressions of disgust, it remains unclear whether the insula responds selectively to disgust-inducing pictures. In this fMRI study, healthy volunteers viewed pictures of contamination, human mutilation, attacks and neutral scenes during scanning, and then rated pictures for the 'basic' emotions. The anterior insula responded to contamination and mutilation but not attacks, while the ventral visual areas responded to attacks and mutilations more strongly than contamination. The above activations were predicted by disgust and arousal ratings respectively. Additionally, mutilations uniquely activated the right superior parietal cortex. These results support selective disgust processing at the insula, and suggest distinct neural responses to contamination and mutilation.

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Available from: Yijun Liu
    • "Affective scientists, including neuroscientists, often study emotional processes by presenting participants with negative images and then observing the consequences. So far, the discrete emotions that have dominated the research agenda are typical experiences such as fear and disgust (e.g., Hariri, Tessitore, Mattay, Fera, & Weinberger, 2002; Wright, He, Shapira, Goodman, & Liu, 2004; Stark, Zimmermann, Kagerer, Schienle, Walter, Weygandt, & Vaitl, 2007; Borg, de Jong, Renken, & Georgiadis, 2013). Nevertheless, people also experience fascination, interest, or curiosity when faced with negative events (Rimé, Delfosse & Corsini, 2005; Turner & Silvia, 2006; Zuckerman & Litle, 1986). "
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    ABSTRACT: Negative stimuli do not only evoke fear or disgust, but can also evoke a state of "morbid fascination" which is an urge to approach and explore a negative stimulus. In the present neuroimaging study, we applied an innovative method to investigate the neural systems involved in typical and atypical conceptualizations of negative images. Participants received false feedback labeling their mental experience as fear, disgust or morbid fascination. This manipulation was successful; participants judged the false feedback correct for 70% of the trials on average. The neuroimaging results demonstrated differential activity within regions in the 'neural reference space for discrete emotion' depending on the type of feedback. We found robust differences in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex comparing morbid fascination to control feedback. More subtle differences in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex were also found between morbid fascination feedback and the other emotion feedback conditions. The present study is the first to forward evidence about the neural representation of the experimentally unexplored state of morbid fascination. In line with a constructionist framework, our findings suggest that neural resources associated with the process of conceptualization contribute to the neural representation of this state. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:
    No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
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    • "For example, relevant evidence might be sought in the facial or physiological expressions of disgust (rather than shame) in response to a self-disgust trigger (e.g., looking at the self in a mirror, or self-generated inappropriate sexual thoughts; see Neziroglu, Hickey, & McKay, 2010). Further, neurological activation of areas linked to the disgust response (e.g., the anterior insula; Calder, Lawrence, & Young, 2001, Wicker et al., 2003; Wright, He, Shapira, Goodman, & Liu, 2004), and observational evidence of congruent behavioural responses (e.g., tactile and visual avoidance, attempts at cleansing; Coughtrey, Shafran, Lee, & Rachman, 2012; Elliott & Radomsky, 2012; Powell, Overton et al., 2013) accompanying any reports of self-disgust, would strengthen such a theoretical claim. While there exists anecdotal accounts that are suggestive of some of this (e.g., behavioural and cognitive avoidance; Coughtrey et al., 2012; Powell, Overton et al., 2013), accruing formal empirical data for self-directed disgust from multiple modalities is both a useful and essential area for further work. "

    Full-text · Chapter · Jan 2015
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    • "Contrary to our initial hypothesis on the existence of dissociation between anterior and posterior brain regions in the activation of the defensive system, we did not find activations in the visual areas. Emotional activation has been found to be associated with the enhancement of visual perception (Phelps et al. 2006), particularly in the ventral visual stream (Wright et al. 2004), with evidence of an increased amygdala – visual cortex (extra striate and inferotemporal) functional connectivity for both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli (Sabatinelli et al. 2005; Wendt et al. 2011). In particular, several studies have revealed the existence of visual processing impairments in OCD, such as visual memory/visuomotor speed set shifting (Rampacher et al. 2010), body posture discrimination (Shin et al. 2013), and perception of biological movement (Kim et al. 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: Several studies have shown that basic emotions are responsible for a significant enhancement of early visual processes and increased activation in visual processing brain regions. It may be possible that the cognitive uncertainty and repeated behavioral checking evident in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is due to the existence of abnormalities in basic survival circuits, particularly those associated with the visual processing of the physical characteristics of emotional-laden stimuli. The objective of the present study was to test if patients with OCD show evidence of altered basic survival circuits, particularly those associated with the visual processing of the physical characteristics of emotional stimuli. Fifteen patients with OCD and 12 healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging acquisition while being exposed to emotional pictures, with different levels of arousal, intended to trigger the defensive and appetitive basic survival circuits. Overall, the present results seem to indicate dissociation in the activity of the defense and appetitive survival systems in OCD. Results suggest that the clinical group reacts to basic threat with a strong activation of the defensive system mobilizing widespread brain networks (i.e., frontal, temporal, occipital-parietal, and subcortical nucleus) and blocking the activation of the appetitive system when facing positive emotional triggers from the initial stages of visual processing (i.e., superior occipital gyrus).
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · Brain Imaging and Behavior
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