From affect to control: Functional specialization of the insula in motivation and regulation.
Citation: Wager, T.D. and Barrett, L.F. (2004). From affect to control: Functional specialization of the insula in motivation and regulation.
The insula plays a key role in a wide range of brain processes, from viscerosensation and pain to motivation, emotion, and cognitive control. While human neuroimaging studies in all these domains report activations in the insula, little systematic attention is paid to anatomical subdivisions that may provide the basis for functional sub-regions. We conducted a meta-analysis of insular tasks across studies in four domains: emotion, pain, attention switching, and working memory. Using a priori subdivision of the insula based on anatomical studies, we provide evidence that different sub-regions are preferentially activated in different tasks. We suggest that the ventral anterior insula is most important for core affect, a term that describes broadly-tuned motivational states (e.g., excitement) with associated subjective feelings. The dorsal anterior insula, by contrast, may be critical for developing and updating motivational states with specific associated actions (i.e., goals). This region is activated by cognitive control tasks, pain, and some tasks that elicit affective processing. The posterior insula, including SII and portions of parietal operculum, is distinctly activated by pain, providing a double dissociation between pain and tasks that elicit emotions.