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Concept: Cingulate cortex


How does witnessing a hateful person in pain compare to witnessing a likable person in pain? The current study compared the brain bases for how we perceive likable people in pain with those of viewing hateful people in pain. While social bonds are built through sharing the plight and pain of others in the name of empathy, viewing a hateful person in pain also has many potential ramifications. In this functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study, Caucasian Jewish male participants viewed videos of (1) disliked, hateful, anti-Semitic individuals, and (2) liked, non-hateful, tolerant individuals in pain. The results showed that, compared with viewing liked people, viewing hateful people in pain elicited increased responses in regions associated with observation of physical pain (the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the somatosensory cortex), reward processing (the striatum), and frontal regions associated with emotion regulation. Functional connectivity analyses revealed connections between seed regions in the left ACC and right insular cortex with reward regions, the amygdala, and frontal regions associated with emotion regulation. These data indicate that regions of the brain active while viewing someone in pain may be more active in response to the danger or threat posed by witnessing the pain of a hateful individual more so than the desire to empathize with a likable person’s pain.

Concepts: Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Pain, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Insular cortex


The capacity to deceive others is a complex mental skill that requires the ability to suppress truthful information. The polygraph is widely used in countries such as the USA to detect deception. However, little is known about the effects of emotional processes (such as the fear of being found guilty despite being innocent) on the physiological responses that are used to detect lies. The aim of this study was to investigate the time course and neural correlates of untruthful behavior by analyzing electrocortical indexes in response to visually presented neutral and affective questions. Affective questions included sexual, shameful or disgusting topics. A total of 296 questions that were inherently true or false were presented to 25 subjects while ERPs were recorded from 128 scalp sites. Subjects were asked to lie on half of the questions and to answer truthfully on the remaining half. Behavioral and ERP responses indicated an increased need for executive control functions, namely working memory, inhibition and task switching processes, during deceptive responses. Deceptive responses also elicited a more negative N400 over the prefrontal areas and a smaller late positivity (LP 550-750 ms) over the prefrontal and frontal areas. However, a reduction in LP amplitude was also elicited by truthful affective responses. The failure to observe a difference in LP responses across conditions likely results from emotional interference. A swLORETA inverse solution was computed on the N400 amplitude (300-400 ms) for the dishonest - honest contrast. These results showed the activation of the superior, medial, middle and inferior frontal gyri (BA9, 11, 47) and the anterior cingulate cortex during deceptive responses. Our results conclude that the N400 amplitude is a reliable neural marker of deception.

Concepts: Psychology, Cerebrum, Emotion, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Lie, Deception


Attentional control ensures that neuronal processes prioritize the most relevant stimulus in a given environment. Controlling which stimulus is attended thus originates from neurons encoding the relevance of stimuli, i.e. their expected value, in hand with neurons encoding contextual information about stimulus locations, features, and rules that guide the conditional allocation of attention. Here, we examined how these distinct processes are encoded and integrated in macaque prefrontal cortex (PFC) by mapping their functional topographies at the time of attentional stimulus selection. We find confined clusters of neurons in ventromedial PFC (vmPFC) that predominantly convey stimulus valuation information during attention shifts. These valuation signals were topographically largely separated from neurons predicting the stimulus location to which attention covertly shifted, and which were evident across the complete medial-to-lateral extent of the PFC, encompassing anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and lateral PFC (LPFC). LPFC responses showed particularly early-onset selectivity and primarily facilitated attention shifts to contralateral targets. Spatial selectivity within ACC was delayed and heterogeneous, with similar proportions of facilitated and suppressed responses during contralateral attention shifts. The integration of spatial and valuation signals about attentional target stimuli was observed in a confined cluster of neurons at the intersection of vmPFC, ACC, and LPFC. These results suggest that valuation processes reflecting stimulus-specific outcome predictions are recruited during covert attentional control. Value predictions and the spatial identification of attentional targets were conveyed by largely separate neuronal populations, but were integrated locally at the intersection of three major prefrontal areas, which may constitute a functional hub within the larger attentional control network.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Prefrontal cortex, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Self-control problems commonly manifest as temper outbursts and repetitive/rigid/impulsive behaviors, in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which often contributes to learning difficulties and caregiver burden. The present study aims to compare the effect of a traditional Chinese Chan-based mind-body exercise, Nei Yang Gong, with that of the conventional Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique in enhancing the self-control of children with ASD. Forty-six age- and IQ-matched ASD children were randomly assigned to receive group training in Nei Yang Gong (experimental group) or PMR (control group) twice per week for four weeks. The participants' self-control was measured by three neuropsychological tests and parental rating on standardized questionnaires, and the underlying neural mechanism was assessed by the participants' brain EEG activity during an inhibitory-control task before and after intervention. The results show that the experimental group demonstrated significantly greater improvement in self-control than the control group, which concurs with the parental reports of reduced autistic symptoms and increased control of temper and behaviors. In addition, the experimental group showed enhanced EEG activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region that mediates self-control, whereas the PMR group did not. The present findings support the potential application of Chinese Chan-based mind-body exercises as a form of neuropsychological rehabilitation for patients with self-control problems. Chinese Clinical Trial Registry; Registration No.: ChiCTR-TRC-12002561; URL:

Concepts: Psychology, Experimental design, Autism, Neuropsychology, Autism spectrum, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic and disabling disorder with poor response to pharmacological treatments. Converging evidences suggest that OCD patients suffer from dysfunction of the cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical (CSTC) circuit, including in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

Concepts: Medicine, Brain, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Obsessive–compulsive disorder


A hallmark feature of chronic pain is its ability to impact other sensory and affective experiences. It is notably associated with hypersensitivity at the site of tissue injury. It is less clear, however, if chronic pain can also induce a generalized site-nonspecific enhancement in the aversive response to nociceptive inputs. Here, we showed that chronic pain in one limb in rats increased the aversive response to acute pain stimuli in the opposite limb, as assessed by conditioned place aversion. Interestingly, neural activities in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) correlated with noxious intensities, and optogenetic modulation of ACC neurons showed bidirectional control of the aversive response to acute pain. Chronic pain, however, altered acute pain intensity representation in the ACC to increase the aversive response to noxious stimuli at anatomically unrelated sites. Thus, chronic pain can disrupt cortical circuitry to enhance the aversive experience in a generalized anatomically nonspecific manner.

Concepts: Cerebrum, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Insular cortex


It is well-established that active rehearsal increases the efficacy of memory consolidation. It is also known that complex events are interpreted with reference to prior knowledge. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the neural underpinnings of these effects. In healthy adults humans, we investigated the impact of effortful, active rehearsal on memory for events by showing people several short video clips and then asking them to recall these clips, either aloud (Experiment 1) or silently while in an MRI scanner (Experiment 2). In both experiments, actively rehearsed clips were remembered in far greater detail than unrehearsed clips when tested a week later. In Experiment 1, highly similar descriptions of events were produced across retrieval trials, suggesting a degree of semanticization of the memories had taken place. In Experiment 2, spatial patterns of BOLD signal in medial temporal and posterior midline regions were correlated when encoding and rehearsing the same video. Moreover, the strength of this correlation in the posterior cingulate predicted the amount of information subsequently recalled. This is likely to reflect a strengthening of the representation of the video’s content. We argue that these representations combine both new episodic information and stored semantic knowledge (or “schemas”). We therefore suggest that posterior midline structures aid consolidation by reinstating and strengthening the associations between episodic details and more generic schematic information. This leads to the creation of coherent memory representations of lifelike, complex events that are resistant to forgetting, but somewhat inflexible and semantic-like in nature.

Concepts: Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Episodic memory, Semantic memory, Cingulate cortex, Memory consolidation, Video clip


Media multitasking, or the concurrent consumption of multiple media forms, is increasingly prevalent in today’s society and has been associated with negative psychosocial and cognitive impacts. Individuals who engage in heavier media-multitasking are found to perform worse on cognitive control tasks and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties. However, the neural processes associated with media multi-tasking remain unexplored. The present study investigated relationships between media multitasking activity and brain structure. Research has demonstrated that brain structure can be altered upon prolonged exposure to novel environments and experience. Thus, we expected differential engagements in media multitasking to correlate with brain structure variability. This was confirmed via Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM) analyses: Individuals with higher Media Multitasking Index (MMI) scores had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Functional connectivity between this ACC region and the precuneus was negatively associated with MMI. Our findings suggest a possible structural correlate for the observed decreased cognitive control performance and socio-emotional regulation in heavy media-multitaskers. While the cross-sectional nature of our study does not allow us to specify the direction of causality, our results brought to light novel associations between individual media multitasking behaviors and ACC structure differences.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Lack of physical engagement, productivity, and initiative-so-called “behavioral apathy”-is a common problem with significant impact, both personal and economic. Here, we investigate whether there might be a biological basis to such lack of motivation using a new effort and reward-based decision-making paradigm, combined with functional and diffusion-weighted imaging. We hypothesized that behavioral apathy in otherwise healthy people might be associated with differences in brain systems underlying either motivation to act (specifically in effort and reward-based decision-making) or in action processing (transformation of an intention into action). The results demonstrate that behavioral apathy is associated with increased effort sensitivity as well as greater recruitment of neural systems involved in action anticipation: supplementary motor area (SMA) and cingulate motor zones. In addition, decreased structural and functional connectivity between anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and SMA were associated with increased behavioral apathy. These findings reveal that effort sensitivity and translation of intentions into actions might make a critical contribution to behavioral apathy. We propose a mechanism whereby inefficient communication between ACC and SMA might lead to increased physiological cost-and greater effort sensitivity-for action initiation in more apathetic people.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Premotor cortex, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Tonic pain after injury characterises a behavioural state that prioritises recovery. Although generally suppressing cognition and attention, tonic pain needs to allow effective relief learning to reduce the cause of the pain. Here, we describe a central learning circuit that supports learning of relief and concurrently suppresses the level of ongoing pain. We used computational modelling of behavioural, physiological and neuroimaging data in two experiments in which subjects learned to terminate tonic pain in static and dynamic escape-learning paradigms. In both studies, we show that active relief-seeking involves a reinforcement learning process manifest by error signals observed in the dorsal putamen. Critically, this system uses an uncertainty (‘associability’) signal detected in pregenual anterior cingulate cortex that both controls the relief learning rate, and endogenously and parametrically modulates the level of tonic pain. The results define a self-organising learning circuit that reduces ongoing pain when learning about potential relief.

Concepts: Psychology, Cerebrum, Machine learning, Learning, Knowledge, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex