"Affective coding in the anterior insula: evidence from cross-modal comparisons of response patterns and prosocial decision making"
The anterior insula (AI) has been implicated in various economically relevant decisions, including charitable donations and unfair monetary transactions. Using multivariate decoding techniques, study 1 provides evidence for the role of affective empathic responses (encoded in the AI) that contribute to generous giving decisions. Importantly, this effect was highly specific and could be differentiated from other social mental processes (including mentalizing, perceived closeness, similarity or deserving of the beneficiaries) and domain-general attention shifts. Study 2 compared neural responses in the AI for several aversive affective experiences, including the processing of painful, disgusting and unfair economic transfers. Using cross-task decoding, we provide evidence for both domain-specific coding in the AI as well as for shared neural signatures across economic and basic sensory tasks coding for the affective unpleasantness of experiences. Overall, our findings suggest that the AI sub-serves multiple processes that can be identified and delineated using multivariate decoding techniques.