Individual variability in emotion processing may be associated with genetic variation as well as with psychological predispositions such as dispositional affect styles. Our previous fMRI study demonstrated that amygdala reactivity was independently predicted by affective-cognitive styles (phobic prone or eating disorders prone) and genotype of the serotonin transporter in a discrimination task of fearful facial expressions. Since the insula is associated with the subjective evaluation of bodily states and is involved in human feelings, we explored whether its activity could also vary in function of individual differences. In the present fMRI study, the association between dispositional affects and insula reactivity has been examined in two groups of healthy participants categorized according to affective-cognitive styles (phobic prone or eating disorders prone). Images of the faces of partners and strangers, in both painful and neutral situations, were used as visual stimuli. Interaction analyses indicate significantly different activations in the two groups in reaction to a loved one's pain: the phobic prone group exhibited greater activation in the left posterior insula. These results demonstrate that affective-cognitive style is associated with insula activity in pain empathy processing, suggesting a greater involvement of the insula in feelings for a certain cohort of people. In the mapping of individual differences, these results shed new light on variability in neural networks of emotion.
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