The primary somatosensory cortex is composed of four subregions: Brodmann area 3a (BA3a), which is primarily proprioceptive; BA3b and BA1, which are primarily tactile; and BA2, which combines tactile and proprioceptive information
Of the somatosensory cortices, only BA2 and the secondary somatosensory cortex (SII) have direct connections with brain regions that are known to contain neurons that respond to visual and auditory stimuli. This could provide an anatomical pathway for these regions to respond to the sight of other people's somatosensory experiences.
SII shows elevated activity when people are touched and when they see other people, and in some studies objects, being touched.
BA2 shows elevated activity both when people manipulate objects and when they see the actions of other individuals, especially when these actions are directed at objects.
SI and SII are activated when people experience somatic pain and when they attend to other people's somatic pain.
Interfering with activity in BA2 and SII impairs the perception of other people's facial expressions.
Mirror-touch synaesthetes experience observed touch on their own body, and one-third of the population experiences pain on their own body when they see the injuries of other people. Both groups activate their SI and SII more strongly than other people when viewing the touch and injuries, respectively, of others, linking SI and SII activity with the vivid sharing of other people's somatosensory states.
Unlike BA2 and SII, BA3 seems to be exclusively involved in processing our own somatosensory states. This may help to distinguish our own states from those we perceive in others.
Anatomical and functional data converge to show that the somatosensory cortices, and BA2 and SII in particular, can contribute to our perception of other people's inner states by activating representations 'as if' we were experiencing similar tactile, proprioceptive and nociceptive stimuli on our own body.
The discovery of mirror neurons in motor areas of the brain has led many to assume that our ability to understand other people's behaviour partially relies on vicarious activations of motor cortices. This Review focuses the limelight of social neuroscience on a different set of brain regions: the somatosensory cortices. These have anatomical connections that enable them to have a role in visual and auditory social perception. Studies that measure brain activity while participants witness the sensations, actions and somatic pain of others consistently show vicarious activation in the somatosensory cortices. Neuroscientists are starting to understand how the brain adds a somatosensory dimension to our perception of other people.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Associations between digital media use and brain surface structural measures in preschool-aged children
Scientific Reports Open Access 09 November 2022
Scientific Reports Open Access 29 April 2022
Automatic mapping of multiplexed social receptive fields by deep learning and GPU-accelerated 3D videography
Nature Communications Open Access 01 February 2022
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $6.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Caggiano, V., Fogassi, L., Rizzolatti, G., Thier, P. & Casile, A. Mirror neurons differentially encode the peripersonal and extrapersonal space of monkeys. Science 324, 403–406 (2009).
Fogassi, L. et al. Parietal lobe: from action organization to intention understanding. Science 308, 662–667 (2005).
Fujii, N., Hihara, S. & Iriki, A. Social cognition in premotor and parietal cortex. Soc. Neurosci. 3, 250–260 (2008).
Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L. & Rizzolatti, G. Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain 119, 593–609 (1996).
Keysers, C. et al. Audiovisual mirror neurons and action recognition. Exp. Brain Res. 153, 628–636 (2003).
Kohler, E. et al. Hearing sounds, understanding actions: action representation in mirror neurons. Science 297, 846–848 (2002).
Rozzi, S., Ferrari, P. F., Bonini, L., Rizzolatti, G. & Fogassi, L. Functional organization of inferior parietal lobule convexity in the macaque monkey: electrophysiological characterization of motor, sensory and mirror responses and their correlation with cytoarchitectonic areas. Eur. J. Neurosci. 28, 1569–1588 (2008).
Umilta, M. A. et al. I know what you are doing: a neurophysiological study. Neuron 31, 155–165 (2001).
Grezes, J., Armony, J. L., Rowe, J. & Passingham, R. E. Activations related to 'mirror' and 'canonical' neurons in the human brain: an fMRI study. Neuroimage 18, 928–937 (2003).
Filimon, F., Nelson, J. D., Hagler, D. J. & Sereno, M. I. Human cortical representations for reaching: mirror neurons for execution, observation, and imagery. Neuroimage 37, 1315–1328 (2007).
Gazzola, V. & Keysers, C. The observation and execution of actions share motor and somatosensory voxels in all tested subjects: single-subject analyses of unsmoothed fMRI data. Cereb. Cortex 19, 1239–1255 (2009). Using unsmoothed data and single-subject analysis, this paper shows that BA2 and SII are involved in action observation and action execution.
Gazzola, V., Rizzolatti, G., Wicker, B. & Keysers, C. The anthropomorphic brain: the mirror neuron system responds to human and robotic actions. Neuroimage 35, 1674–1684 (2007).
Gazzola, V. et al. Aplasics born without hands mirror the goal of hand actions with their feet. Curr. Biol. 17, 1235–1240 (2007).
Turella, L., Erb, M., Grodd, W. & Castiello, U. Visual features of an observed agent do not modulate human brain activity during action observation. Neuroimage 46, 844–853 (2009).
Buccino, G. et al. Neural circuits underlying imitation learning of hand actions: an event-related fMRI study. Neuron 42, 323–334 (2004).
Dinstein, I., Hasson, U., Rubin, N. & Heeger, D. J. Brain areas selective for both observed and executed movements. J. Neurophysiol. 98, 1415–1427 (2007).
Gazzola, V., Aziz-Zadeh, L. & Keysers, C. Empathy and the somatotopic auditory mirror system in humans. Curr. Biol. 16, 1824–1829 (2006).
Ricciardi, E. et al. Do we really need vision? How blind people 'see' the actions of others. J. Neurosci. 29, 9719–9724 (2009).
Rizzolatti, G. & Craighero, L. The mirror-neuron system. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 27, 169–192 (2004).
Rizzolatti, G. & Fabbri-Destro, M. The mirror system and its role in social cognition. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 18, 179–184 (2008).
Gallese, V., Keysers, C. & Rizzolatti, G. A unifying view of the basis of social cognition. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 396–403 (2004).
Keysers, C. & Gazzola, V. Towards a unifying neural theory of social cognition. Prog. Brain Res. 156, 379–401 (2006).
Iacoboni, M. & Dapretto, M. The mirror neuron system and the consequences of its dysfunction. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 7, 942–951 (2006).
Bastiaansen, J. A., Thioux, M. & Keysers, C. Evidence for mirror systems in emotions. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 364, 2391–2404 (2009).
Wicker, B. et al. Both of us disgusted in my insula: the common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust. Neuron 40, 655–664 (2003).
Adolphs, R., Tranel, D. & Damasio, A. R. Dissociable neural systems for recognizing emotions. Brain Cogn. 52, 61–69 (2003).
Calder, A. J., Keane, J., Manes, F., Antoun, N. & Young, A. W. Impaired recognition and experience of disgust following brain injury. Nature Neurosci. 3, 1077–1078 (2000).
Singer, T. et al. Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science 303, 1157–1162 (2004).
Botvinick, M. et al. Viewing facial expressions of pain engages cortical areas involved in the direct experience of pain. Neuroimage 25, 312–319 (2005).
Jackson, P. L., Brunet, E., Meltzoff, A. N. & Decety, J. Empathy examined through the neural mechanisms involved in imagining how I feel versus how you feel pain. Neuropsychologia 44, 752–761 (2006).
Jackson, P. L., Meltzoff, A. N. & Decety, J. How do we perceive the pain of others? A window into the neural processes involved in empathy. Neuroimage 24, 771–779 (2005).
Singer, T. et al. Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature 439, 466–469 (2006).
Carr, L., Iacoboni, M., Dubeau, M. C., Mazziotta, J. C. & Lenzi, G. L. Neural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 5497–5502 (2003).
Dapretto, M. et al. Understanding emotions in others: mirror neuron dysfunction in children with autism spectrum disorders. Nature Neurosci. 9, 28–30 (2006).
Jabbi, M., Swart, M. & Keysers, C. Empathy for positive and negative emotions in the gustatory cortex. Neuroimage 34, 1744–1753 (2007).
van der Gaag, C., Minderaa, R. & Keysers, C. Facial expressions: what the mirror neuron system can and cannot tell us. Soc. Neurosci. 2, 179–222 (2007).
Costantini, M., Galati, G., Romani, G. L. & Aglioti, S. M. Empathic neural reactivity to noxious stimuli delivered to body parts and non-corporeal objects. Eur. J. Neurosci. 28, 1222–1230 (2008).
Decety, J., Echols, S. & Correll, J. The blame game: the effect of responsibility and social stigma on empathy for pain 22, 985–997 (2009).
Lamm, C., Batson, C. D. & Decety, J. The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 19, 42–58 (2007).
Lamm, C. & Decety, J. Is the extrastriate body area (EBA) sensitive to the perception of pain in others? Cereb. Cortex 18, 2369–2373 (2008).
Lamm, C., Meltzoff, A. N. & Decety, J. How do we empathize with someone who Is not like us? A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. J.Cogn. Neurosci. 22, 362–376 (2009).
Lamm, C., Nusbaum, H. C., Meltzoff, A. N. & Decety, J. What are you feeling? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess the modulation of sensory and affective responses during empathy for pain. PLoS ONE 2, e1292 (2007).
Morrison, I. & Downing, P. E. Organization of felt and seen pain responses in anterior cingulate cortex. Neuroimage 37, 642–651 (2007).
Morrison, I., Lloyd, D., di Pellegrino, G. & Roberts, N. Vicarious responses to pain in anterior cingulate cortex: is empathy a multisensory issue? Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci. 4, 270–278 (2004).
Saarela, M. V. et al. The compassionate brain: humans detect intensity of pain from another's face. Cereb. Cortex 17, 230–237 (2007).
Penfield, W. & Faulk, M. E. Jr. The insula; further observations on its function. Brain 78, 445–470 (1955).
Kaas, J. H. in The Human Nervous System 2nd edn (eds Paxinos, G. & Mai, J. K.) 1059–1092 (Elsevier, London, 2004).
Craig, A. D. Retrograde analyses of spinothalamic projections in the macaque monkey: input to ventral posterior nuclei. J. Comp. Neurol. 499, 965–978 (2006).
Pons, T. P. & Kaas, J. H. Corticocortical connections of area 2 of somatosensory cortex in macaque monkeys: a correlative anatomical and electrophysiological study. J. Comp. Neurol. 248, 313–335 (1986).
Lederman, S. J. & Klatzky, R. L. Haptic perception: a tutorial. Atten. Percept. Psychophys. 71, 1439–1459 (2009).
Iwamura, Y., Tanaka, M., Iriki, A., Taoka, M. & Toda, T. Processing of tactile and kinesthetic signals from bilateral sides of the body in the postcentral gyrus of awake monkeys. Behav. Brain Res. 135, 185–190 (2002).
Killackey, H. P., Gould, H. J., Cusick, C. G., Pons, T. P. & Kaas, J. H. The relation of corpus callosum connections to architectonic fields and body surface maps in sensorimotor cortex of new and old world monkeys. J. Comp. Neurol. 219, 384–419 (1983).
Maunsell, J. H. & van Essen, D. C. The connections of the middle temporal visual area (MT) and their relationship to a cortical hierarchy in the macaque monkey. J. Neurosci. 3, 2563–2586 (1983).
Lewis, J. W. & Van Essen, D. C. Corticocortical connections of visual, sensorimotor, and multimodal processing areas in the parietal lobe of the macaque monkey. J. Comp. Neurol. 428, 112–137 (2000).
Rozzi, S. et al. Cortical connections of the inferior parietal cortical convexity of the macaque monkey. Cereb. Cortex 16, 1389–1417 (2006).
Ishida, H., Nakajima, K., Inase, M. & Murata, A. Shared mapping of own and others' bodies in visuotactile bimodal area of monkey parietal cortex. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 22, 83–96 (2010). This single-cell recording study in macaques provides the first systematic evidence of the existence in monkeys of single neurons that respond both when the monkey is being touched and when it sees someone else being touched.
Keysers, C. & Perrett, D. I. Demystifying social cognition: a Hebbian perspective. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 501–507 (2004).
Disbrow, E., Litinas, E., Recanzone, G. H., Slutsky, D. A. & Krubitzer, L. A. Thalamocortical connections of the parietal ventral area (PV) and the second somatosensory area (S2) in macaque monkeys. Thalamus Relat. Syst. 1, 289–302 (2002).
Eickhoff, S. B., Grefkes, C., Zilles, K. & Fink, G. R. The somatotopic organization of cytoarchitectonic areas on the human parietal operculum. Cereb. Cortex 17, 1800–1811 (2007).
Disbrow, E., Litinas, E., Recanzone, G. H., Padberg, J. & Krubitzer, L. Cortical connections of the second somatosensory area and the parietal ventral area in macaque monkeys. J. Comp. Neurol. 462, 382–399 (2003).
Hackett, T. A. in Evolution of Nervous Systems (ed. Kaas, J. H.) 109–119 (Elsevier, Oxford, 2007).
Mufson, E. J. & Mesulam, M. M. Insula of the old world monkey. II: Afferent cortical input and comments on the claustrum. J. Comp. Neurol. 212, 23–37 (1982).
Brooks, J. & Tracey, I. From nociception to pain perception: imaging the spinal and supraspinal pathways. J. Anat. 207, 19–33 (2005).
Craig, A. D. & Zhang, E. T. Retrograde analyses of spinothalamic projections in the macaque monkey: input to posterolateral thalamus. J. Comp. Neurol. 499, 953–964 (2006).
Björnsdotter, M., Löken, L., Olausson, H., Vallbo, Å. & Wessberg, J. Somatotopic organization of gentle touch processing in the posterior insular cortex. J. Neurosci. 29, 9314–9320 (2009).
Augustine, J. R. Circuitry and functional aspects of the insular lobe in primates including humans. Brain Res. Rev. 22, 229–244 (1996).
Keysers, C. et al. A touching sight: SII/PV activation during the observation and experience of touch. Neuron 42, 335–346 (2004). This was the first fMRI study to show that SII is active both when people experience touch and when they see other people and objects being touched.
Ebisch, S. J. et al. The sense of touch: embodied simulation in a visuotactile mirroring mechanism for observed animate or inanimate touch. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 20, 1611–1623 (2008).
Schaefer, M., Xu, B., Flor, H. & Cohen, L. G. Effects of different viewing perspectives on somatosensory activations during observation of touch. Hum. Brain Mapp. 30, 2722–2730 (2009).
Blakemore, S. J., Bristow, D., Bird, G., Frith, C. & Ward, J. Somatosensory activations during the observation of touch and a case of vision-touch synaesthesia. Brain 128, 1571–1583 (2005). This fMRI case study linked mirror-touch synaesthesia, — that is, the vivid experience of observed touch on one's own body — with hyperactivity during touch observation during touch observation.
Krubitzer, L., Clarey, J., Tweedale, R., Elston, G. & Calford, M. A redefinition of somatosensory areas in the lateral sulcus of macaque monkeys. J. Neurosci. 15, 3821–3839 (1995).
Arnow, B. A. et al. Women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder compared to normal females: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroscience 158, 484–502 (2009).
Ferretti, A. et al. Dynamics of male sexual arousal: distinct components of brain activation revealed by fMRI. Neuroimage 26, 1086–1096 (2005).
Hamann, S., Herman, R. A., Nolan, C. L. & Wallen, K. Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. Nature Neurosci. 7, 411–416 (2004).
Bufalari, I., Aprile, T., Avenanti, A., Di Russo, F. & Aglioti, S. M. Empathy for pain and touch in the human somatosensory cortex. Cereb. Cortex 17, 2553–2561 (2007). This EEG study used the timing of somatosensory evoked potentials to show that higher stages of the somatosensory cortex are modulated by the observation of touch and pain, but BA3 is not.
Allison, T., McCarthy, G. & Wood, C. C. The relationship between human long-latency somatosensory evoked potentials recorded from the cortical surface and from the scalp. Electroencephalogr. Clin. Neurophysiol. 84, 301–314 (1992).
Banissy, M. J. & Ward, J. Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nature Neurosci. 10, 815–816 (2007).
Banissy, M. J., Kadosh, R. C., Maus, G. W., Walsh, V. & Ward, J. Prevalence, characteristics and a neurocognitive model of mirror-touch synaesthesia. Exp. Brain Res. 198, 261–272 (2009).
Freund, H. J. Somatosensory and motor disturbances in patients with parietal lobe lesions. Adv. Neurol. 93, 179–193 (2003).
Hikosaka, O., Takanaka, M., Sakamoto, M. & Iwamura, Y. Deficits in manipulative behviors induced by local injections of muscimol in the first somatosensory cortex of the conscious monkey. Brain Res. 325, 375–380 (1985).
Fabbri-Destro, M. & Rizzolatti, G. Mirror neurons and mirror systems in monkeys and humans. Physiology (Bethesda) 23, 171–179 (2008).
Rizzolatti, G., Ferrari, P. F., Rozzi, S. & Fogassi, L. The inferior parietal lobule: where action becomes perception. Novartis Found. Symp. 270, 129–140 (2006).
Rizzolatti, G. & Sinigaglia, C. Mirror neurons and motor intentionality. Funct. Neurol. 22, 205–210 (2007).
Rizzolatti, G. & Sinigaglia, C. The functional role of the parieto-frontal mirror circuit: interpretations and misinterpretations. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 11, 264–274 (2010).
Rizzolatti, G. et al. Functional organization of inferior area 6 in the macaque monkey. II. Area F5 and the control of distal movements. Exp. Brain Res. 71, 491–507 (1988).
Evangeliou, M. N., Raos, V., Galletti, C. & Savaki, H. E. Functional imaging of the parietal cortex during action execution and observation. Cereb. Cortex 19, 624–639 (2009).
Raos, V., Evangeliou, M. N. & Savaki, H. E. Observation of action: grasping with the mind's hand. Neuroimage 23, 193–201 (2004).
Raos, V., Evangeliou, M. N. & Savaki, H. E. Mental simulation of action in the service of action perception. J. Neurosci. 27, 12675–12683 (2007).
Keysers, C. & Gazzola, V. Expanding the mirror: vicarious activity for actions, emotions, and sensations. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 19, 666–671 (2009).
Etzel, J. A., Gazzola, V. & Keysers, C. Testing simulation theory with cross-modal multivariate classification of fMRI data. PLoS ONE 3, e3690 (2008). Study showing how multi-voxel pattern classification can be used to examine whether the same representations are recruited during the execution of an action and the perception of other people's actions.
Shmuelof, L. & Zohary, E. Dissociation between ventral and dorsal fMRI activation during object and action recognition. Neuron 47, 457–470 (2005).
Costantini, M. et al. Neural systems underlying observation of humanly impossible movements: an fMRI study. Cereb. Cortex 15, 1761–1767 (2005).
Avenanti, A., Bolognini, N., Maravita, A. & Aglioti, S. M. Somatic and motor components of action simulation. Curr. Biol. 17, 2129–2135 (2007). A TMS study showing that the somatosensory and motor systems interact during the observation of extreme joint stretching.
Buccino, G. et al. Action observation activates premotor and parietal areas in a somatotopic manner: an fMRI study. Eur. J. Neurosci. 13, 400–404 (2001).
Pierno, A. C. et al. Neurofunctional modulation of brain regions by the observation of pointing and grasping actions. Cereb. Cortex 19, 367–374 (2009).
Molnar-Szakacs, I., Kaplan, J., Greenfield, P. M. & Iacoboni, M. Observing complex action sequences: the role of the fronto-parietal mirror neuron system. Neuroimage 33, 923–935 (2006).
Hasson, U., Nir, Y., Levy, I., Fuhrmann, G. & Malach, R. Intersubject synchronization of cortical activity during natural vision. Science 303, 1634–1640 (2004). By analysing the degree of synchrony among the brain activity of many viewers of the same western movie, this methodologically pioneering study shows that BA2 is active while the hand–object interactions of other people are being observed.
Cross, E. S., Hamilton, A. F. & Grafton, S. T. Building a motor simulation de novo: observation of dance by dancers. Neuroimage 31, 1257–1267 (2006).
Haslinger, B. et al. Transmodal sensorimotor networks during action observation in professional pianists. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 17, 282–293 (2005).
Calvo-Merino, B., Grezes, J., Glaser, D. E., Passingham, R. E. & Haggard, P. Seeing or doing? Influence of visual and motor familiarity in action observation. Curr. Biol. 16, 1905–1910 (2006).
Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D. E., Grezes, J., Passingham, R. E. & Haggard, P. Action observation and acquired motor skills: an fMRI study with expert dancers. Cereb. Cortex 15, 1243–1249 (2005).
Rizzolatti, G., Fabbri-Destro, M. & Cattaneo, L. Mirror neurons and their clinical relevance. Nature Clin. Pract. Neurol. 5, 24–34 (2009).
Flanagan, J. R., Vetter, P., Johansson, R. S. & Wolpert, D. M. Prediction precedes control in motor learning. Curr. Biol. 13, 146–150 (2003).
Miall, R. C. & Wolpert, D. M. Forward models for physiological motor control. Neural Netw. 9, 1265–1279 (1996).
de Lussanet, M. H. et al. Interaction of visual hemifield and body view in biological motion perception. Eur. J. Neurosci. 27, 514–522 (2008).
Hennenlotter, A. et al. A common neural basis for receptive and expressive communication of pleasant facial affect. Neuroimage 26, 581–591 (2005).
Leslie, K. R., Johnson-Frey, S. H. & Grafton, S. T. Functional imaging of face and hand imitation: towards a motor theory of empathy. Neuroimage 21, 601–607 (2004).
Adolphs, R., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., Cooper, G. & Damasio, A. R. A role for somatosensory cortices in the visual recognition of emotion as revealed by three-dimensional lesion mapping. J. Neurosci. 20, 2683–2690 (2000).
Pitcher, D., Garrido, L., Walsh, V. & Duchaine, B. C. Transcranial magnetic stimulation disrupts the perception and embodiment of facial expressions. J. Neurosci. 28, 8929–8233 (2008). A TMS study showing that the somatosensory cortex contributes to recognizing the facial expressions of other people.
Desmurget, M. et al. Movement intention after parietal cortex stimulation in humans. Science 324, 811–813 (2009).
Zaki, J., Weber, J., Bolger, N. & Ochsner, K. The neural bases of empathic accuracy. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 11382–11387 (2009).
Osborn, J. & Derbyshire, S. W. Pain sensation evoked by observing injury in others. Pain 148, 268–274 (2010). This combination of psychological testing and fMRI shows that a third of people literally share the pain of other people's injuries on their own bodies and links this feeling to vicarious activity in SI and/or SII.
Etzel, J. A., Gazzola, V. & Keysers, C. An introduction to anatomical ROI-based fMRI classification analysis. Brain Res. 1282, 114–125 (2009).
Stoerig, P. & Cowey, A. Blindsight in man and monkey. Brain 120, 535–559 (1997).
Haggard, P., Christakou, A. & Serino, A. Viewing the body modulates tactile receptive fields. Exp. Brain Res. 180, 187–193 (2007).
Botvinick, M. & Cohen, J. Rubber hands 'feel' touch that eyes see. Nature 391, 756 (1998).
Lenggenhager, B., Tadi, T., Metzinger, T. & Blanke, O. Video ergo sum: manipulating bodily self-consciousness. Science 317, 1096–1099 (2007).
Urban, P. P. et al. Different short-term modulation of cortical motor output to distal and proximal upper-limb muscles during painful sensory nerve stimulation. Muscle Nerve 29, 663–669 (2004).
Avenanti, A., Minio-Paluello, I., Bufalari, I. & Aglioti, S. M. The pain of a model in the personality of an onlooker: influence of state-reactivity and personality traits on embodied empathy for pain. Neuroimage 44, 275–283 (2009).
Minio-Paluello, I., Avenanti, A. & Aglioti, S. M. Left hemisphere dominance in reading the sensory qualities of others' pain? Soc. Neurosci. 1, 320–333 (2006).
Avenanti, A., Minio-Paluello, I., Bufalari, I. & Aglioti, S. M. Stimulus-driven modulation of motor-evoked potentials during observation of others' pain. Neuroimage 32, 316–324 (2006).
Avenanti, A., Bueti, D., Galati, G. & Aglioti, S. M. Transcranial magnetic stimulation highlights the sensorimotor side of empathy for pain. Nature Neurosci. 8, 955–960 (2005).
V.G. and C.K. conceived and wrote the Review, and J.H.K. wrote the anatomical section and provided comments on the manuscript. The work was supported by a Marie Curie Excellence Grant of the European Commission, a VIDI grant frm the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) to C.K. and VENI giant (NWO) to V.G. The authors wish to thank D. Arnstein, A. Avenanti and L. Fadiga for comments, L. Cerliani and S. Rozzi for discussions on the anatomical connections of the somatosensory cortices and insula, L. Aziz-Zadeh, D. Dinstein and L. Turella for their data on action observation and F. Filimon for re-examining it in relation to the location of BA2. They would also like to thank S. Ebisch for providing the lower half of figure 3 and A. Avenanti for the figure in Box 2.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
- Vicarious activation
Activation of a brain region that is normally involved in processing the observer's own actions and sensations, but that is now activated by seeing similar actions or sensations in another person.
The sense through which we perceive the position and movements of our own body.
The sense through which we perceive damage caused to our own body — for example, by excessive heat, cold or physical injury.
- Muscle spindle receptors
Receptors in the muscles that measure changes in muscle length and hence changes in the location of the relevant body part.
The sense through which we perceive the world by actively exploring it with our body — for instance, finding our keys among a pocketful of coins.
- Median nerve
A nerve running through the carpal tunnel that innervates one half of the hand and forearm.
- Somatosensory evoked potentials
Electroencephalographic (EEG) signals recorded from the scalp that are induced by the repeated application of a somatosensory stimulus to the body or by electrically triggering activity in the somatosensory fibres in peripheral nerves.
- Forward model
A system that predicts the consequences of a motor command in sensory (somatosensory in particular) terms.
(Plural of quale.) A quality or property as it is perceived or experienced by a person. For instance, although a tomato has the same physical properties regardless of whether it is seen by a typical or a colour-blind viewer, the qualia it will trigger in the two individuals differ substantially, with a 'redness' perception triggered only in the former.
About this article
Cite this article
Keysers, C., Kaas, J. & Gazzola, V. Somatosensation in social perception. Nat Rev Neurosci 11, 417–428 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2833
This article is cited by
Automatic mapping of multiplexed social receptive fields by deep learning and GPU-accelerated 3D videography
Nature Communications (2022)
Associations between digital media use and brain surface structural measures in preschool-aged children
Scientific Reports (2022)
Scientific Reports (2022)
Pre-treatment clinical and gene expression patterns predict developmental change in early intervention in autism
Molecular Psychiatry (2021)
Dispositional empathy predicts primary somatosensory cortex activity while receiving touch by a hand
Scientific Reports (2021)