Neuronal correlates of socio-emotional states in macaques

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

2.30 p.m.

ISI seminar room 1st floor

Dr. Mina Jazayeri Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod

A cornerstone of a successful social life is the ability to correctly predict others’ actions and empathically perceive their emotional states. Studies on primates’ social interaction have shown that thanks to their keen cognitive abilities monkeys are able to deduce what others can hear or see, and to predict others’ emotions and intentions. It has been shown that primates are able to display different degrees of pro-social behavior, from cooperation to even altruism and empathically driven behavior. Studies using fMRI techniques in humans have identified the anterior insula (AI) as a key brain region in the processing of empathy. More precisely, this region emerged as the overlapping area activated for both experienced and observed pain, leading to the idea that empathy for pain may involve a mirror-matching model of the affective and sensory features of others' pain. However, the neuronal basis of this process has yet to be uncovered. In an attempt to extend and to investigate the role of the AI in the process of empathy we have recorded single cell activity in the AI of two monkeys while they were engaged in a social task where based on the performed trials positive or negative reinforcements could be delivered to self, another monkey, or nobody. Behavioral results showed that monkeys take into account the welfare of their partners even when this has no impact on their own welfare. Our neuronal findings report that distinct populations of neurons respond differentially to outcomes for self and other, and to appetitive and aversive outcomes. Interestingly the neuronal population responding to the aversive outcome showed mainly three profiles of activity: neuronal representation of conspecifics’ unpleasant experience, neuronal representation of own unpleasant experience and a minority of neurons showing mirroring properties between self and other. Thus, our results suggest a neuronal model of empathy that accounts for the distinctive features between feeling and empathizing.