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Role of the insular cortex in emotion

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The insular cortex, in particular its most anterior portion, is considered a limbic-related cortex. The insula has increasingly become the focus of attention for its role in body representation and subjective emotional experience. In particular, Antonio Damasio has proposed that this region plays a role in mapping visceral states that are associated with emotional experience, giving rise to conscious feelings. This is in essence a neurobiological formulation of the ideas of William James, who first proposed that subjective emotional experience (i.e. feelings) arise from our brain's interpretation of bodily states that are elicited by emotional events. This is an example of embodied cognition.

Functionally speaking, the insula is believed to process convergent information to produce an emotionally relevant context for sensory experience. More specifically:

  • The anterior insula is related more to olfactory, gustatory, vicero-autonomic, and limbic function,
  • The posterior insula is related more to auditory-somesthetic-skeletomotor function.

This region also processes taste information and is thought to play an important role in experiencing the emotion of disgust [citation needed]. See neuroscience of disgust.

Functional imaging studiesEdit

Functional imaging experiments have revealed that the insula has an important role in pain experience and the experience of a number of basic emotions, including anger, fear, disgust, happiness and sadness.

Functional imaging studies have also implicated the insula in conscious desires, such as food craving and drug craving. What is common to all of these emotional states is that they each change the body in some way and are associated with highly salient subjective qualities. The insula is well situated for the integration of information relating to bodily states into higher-order cognitive and emotional processes. The insula receives information from "homeostatic afferent" sensory pathways via the thalamus and sends output to a number of other limbic-related structures, such as the amygdala, the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex.

MRI studiesEdit

A single study using magnetic resonance imaging has found that the right anterior insula was significantly thicker in people who meditate.[1]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Sara W. Lazar, Catherine E. Kerr, Rachel H. Wasserman, Jeremy R. Gray, Douglas N. Greve, Michael T. Treadway, Metta McGarvey, Brian T. Quinn, Jeffery A. Dusek, Herbert Benson, Scott L. Rauch, Christopher I. Moore, and Bruce Fischl (November 2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport 16 (17): 1893-1897.
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