n the last decade, numerous researches have implicated brain regions such as the insular and cingulate cortex in the experience of pain, both during somatic nociceptive manipulations, and in social contexts when observing others suffering. Yet, it is still debated whether these regions process pain through a sensory-specific code, or through a supra-ordinal representation of aversiveness common also to other negative experiences (e.g., disgust, unfairness, errors) which implicate the same neural structures. To address this controversial issue, I will present studies aimed at comparing the neural signal of pain with that evoked by matched painless negative events, both in somatic and social settings. Across a wide range of methods, I will show that insular and cingulate cortex process pain across both a sensory-specific and supra-ordinal coding. In particular, although regions like the anterior portion of the insula are sensitive to a wide range of negative events, part of the signal retains the sensory-specific information about each of them. Finally, I will show how these results can lead to important effects, not only within a scientific laboratory, but also in the complexity of everyday life. Indeed, I repeated part of the same experiments on professional nurses, and I found that individual brain responses relate to decisions in the workplace. In particular, neural responses underlying sensory-specific representation of others’ pain can predict the degree to which nurses, in daily life, reported in patients’ pain in the clinical chart. Instead, neural signal elicited by a broad representation of negative feedbacks predicted the degree to which pain treatment was denied due to contraindications to analgesics. These results reveal the heterogeneous nature of professional pain management, and highlight how methods from social and affective neuroscience are a powerful tool to explain clinical behavior.
Monday Jan 20th 2020, h 2.30 p.m.
Sala Lauree Psicologia, U6 (3rd floor)
Prof. Carlo Reverberi