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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

May 2015, Vol. 27, No. 5, Pages 866-875
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00754)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When Imagining Yourself in Pain, Visual Perspective Matters: The Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Simulated Sensory Experiences
Article PDF (760.6 KB)

Via mental simulation, imagined events faithfully reproduce the neural and behavioral activities that accompany their actual occurrence. However, little is known about how fundamental characteristics of mental imagery—notably perspectives of self—shape neurocognitive processes. To address this issue, we used fMRI to explore the impact that vantage point exerts on the neural and behavioral correlates of imaginary sensory experiences (i.e., pain). Participants imagined painful scenarios from three distinct visual perspectives: first-person self (1PS), third-person self (3PS), and third-person other (3PO). Corroborating increased ratings of pain and embodiment, 1PS (cf. 3PS) simulations elicited greater activity in the right anterior insula, a brain area that supports interoceptive and emotional awareness. Additionally, 1PS simulations evoked greater activity in brain areas associated with visual imagery and the sense of body ownership. Interestingly, no differences were observed between 3PS and 3PO imagery. Taken together, these findings reveal the neural and behavioral correlates of visual perspective during mental simulation.