Mirroring pain in the brain: emotional expression versus motor imitation

Budell, L., Kunz, M., Jackson, P. L. & Rainville, P., 11-Feb-2015, In : PLoS ONE. 10, 2, 20 p., e0107526.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Copy link to clipboard



  • Lesley Budell
  • Miriam Kunz
  • Philip L Jackson
  • Pierre Rainville

Perception of pain in others via facial expressions has been shown to involve brain areas responsive to self-pain, biological motion, as well as both performed and observed motor actions. Here, we investigated the involvement of these different regions during emotional and motor mirroring of pain expressions using a two-task paradigm, and including both observation and execution of the expressions. BOLD responses were measured as subjects watched video clips showing different intensities of pain expression and, after a variable delay, either expressed the amount of pain they perceived in the clips (pain task), or imitated the facial movements (movement task). In the pain task condition, pain coding involved overlapping activation across observation and execution in the anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula, and the inferior parietal lobule, and a pain-related increase (pain vs. neutral) in the anterior cingulate cortex/supplementary motor area, the right inferior frontal gyrus, and the postcentral gyrus. The 'mirroring' response was stronger in the inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus/superior temporal sulcus during the pain task, and stronger in the inferior parietal lobule in the movement task. These results strongly suggest that while motor mirroring may contribute to the perception of pain expressions in others, interpreting these expressions in terms of pain content draws more heavily on networks involved in the perception of affective meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0107526
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11-Feb-2015


  • Adolescent, Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Emotions, Facial Expression, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Pain, Pain Perception, Photic Stimulation, Psychomotor Performance, Young Adult

Download statistics

No data available

ID: 29187938