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Publié le November 16, 2018 | Updated on April 3, 2019

Neural correlates of socio-emotional states in macaques

Mina JAZAYERI - Under the supervision of Jean-René Duhamel.

A cornerstone of a successful social life is the ability to correctly predict others’ actions and empathically perceive their emotional states. Studies on primates’ social interaction have shown that thanks to their keen cognitive abilities monkeys are able to deduce what others can hear or see, and to predict others’ emotions and intentions. It has been shown that primates are able to display different degrees of prosocial behavior, from cooperation to even altruism and empathically driven behavior. Studies using fMRI techniques inhumans have identified the anterior insula (AI) as a key brain region in the processing of empathy. More precisely, this region emerged as the overlapping area activated for both experienced and observed pain,leading to the idea that empathy for pain may involve a mirror-matching model of the affective and sensory features of others' pain. However, the neuronal basis of this process has yet to be uncovered. In an attempt toextend and to investigate the role of the AI in the process of empathy we have recorded single cell activity inthe AI of two monkeys while they were engaged in a social task where based on the performed trials positiveor negative reinforcements could be delivered to self, another monkey, or nobody. Behavioral results showed that monkeys take into account the welfare of their partners even when this has no impact on their ownwelfare. Our neuronal findings report that distinct population of neurons respond differentially to outcomesfor self and other, and to appetitive and aversive outcomes. Interestingly the neuronal population responding to the aversive outcome showed mainly three profiles of activity: neuronal representation of conspecifics’unpleasant experience, neuronal representation of own unpleasant experience and a minority of neurons showing mirroring properties between self and other. Thus, our results suggest a neuronal model of empathy that accounts for the distinctive features between feeling and empathizing