Mimi Liljeholm, Simon Dunne, and John P. O'Doherty
The Journal of Neuroscience, 20 August 2014, 34(34):11339-11348
If someone causes you harm, your affective reaction to that person might be profoundly influenced by your inferences about the intentionality of their actions. In the present study, we aimed to understand how affective responses to a biologically salient aversive outcome administered by others are modulated by the extent to which a given individual is judged to have deliberately or inadvertently delivered the outcome. Using fMRI, we examined how neural responses to anticipation and receipt of an aversive stimulus are modulated by this fundamental social judgment. We found that affective evaluations about an individual whose actions led to either noxious or neutral consequences for the subject did indeed depend on the perceived intentions of that individual. At the neural level, activity in the anterior insula correlated with the interaction between perceived intentionality and anticipated outcome valence, suggesting that this region reflects the influence of mental state attribution on aversive expectations.