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The middle cingulate cortex and dorso-central insula: A mirror circuit encoding observation and execution of vitality forms

Di Cesare Giuseppe; Marchi Massimo; Lombardi Giada; Gerbella Marzio; Sciutti Alessandra; Rizzolatti Giacomo

Actions with identical goals can be executed in different ways (gentle, rude, vigorous, etc.), which D. N. Stern called vitality forms [D. N. Stern, Forms of Vitality Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development (2010)]. Vitality forms express the agent’s attitudes toward others. In a series of fMRI studies, we found that the dorso-central insula (DCI) is the region that is selectively active during both vitality form observation and execution. In one previous experiment, however, the middle cingulate gyrus also exhibited activation. In the present study, in order to assess the role of the cingulate cortex in vitality form processing, we adopted a classical vitality form paradigm, but making the control condition devoid of vitality forms using jerky movements. Participants performed two different tasks: Observation of actions performed gently or rudely and execution of the same actions. The results showed that in addition to the insula, the middle cingulate cortex (MCC) was strongly activated during both action observation and execution. Using a voxel-based analysis, voxels showing a similar trend of the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in both action observation and execution were found in the DCI and in the MCC. Finally, using a multifiber tractography analysis, we showed that the active sites in MCC and DCI are reciprocally connected.

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