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Sensorimotor network crucial for inferring amusement from smiles

Paracampo, Riccardo; Tidoni, Emmanuele; Borgomaneri, Sara; di Pellegrino, Giuseppe; Avenanti, Alessio


Riccardo Paracampo

Sara Borgomaneri

Giuseppe di Pellegrino

Alessio Avenanti


Understanding whether another's smile reflects authentic amusement is a key challenge in social life, yet, the neural bases of this ability have been largely unexplored. Here, we combined transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) with a novel empathic accuracy (EA) task to test whether sensorimotor and mentalizing networks are critical for understanding another's amusement. Participants were presented with dynamic displays of smiles and explicitly requested to infer whether the smiling individual was feeling authentic amusement or not. TMS over sensorimotor regions representing the face (i.e., in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and ventral primary somatosensory cortex (SI)), disrupted the ability to infer amusement authenticity from observed smiles. The same stimulation did not affect performance on a nonsocial task requiring participants to track the smiling expression but not to infer amusement. Neither TMS over prefrontal and temporo-parietal areas supporting mentalizing, nor peripheral control stimulations, affected performance on either task. Thus, motor and somatosensory circuits for controlling and sensing facial movements are causally essential for inferring amusement from another's smile. These findings highlight the functional relevance of IFG and SI to amusement understanding and suggest that EA abilities may be grounded in sensorimotor networks for moving and feeling the body.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Nov 1, 2017
Journal Cerebral Cortex
Print ISSN 1047-3211
Electronic ISSN 1460-2199
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 11
Pages 5116-5129
APA6 Citation Paracampo, R., Tidoni, E., Borgomaneri, S., di Pellegrino, G., & Avenanti, A. (2017). Sensorimotor network crucial for inferring amusement from smiles. Cerebral Cortex, 27(11), 5116-5129.
Keywords Amusement; Emotion authenticity; Empathic accuracy; Ensorimotor system; Simulation; Transcranial magnetic stimulation
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