Structural differences in insular cortex reflect vicarious injustice sensitivity

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© 2016 Baumgartner et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.Sensitivity to injustice inflicted on others is a strong motivator of human social behavior. There are, however, enormous individual differences in vicarious injustice sensitivity. Some people are strongly affected when witnessing injustice, while others barely notice it, but the factors behind this heterogeneity are poorly understood. Here we examine the neuroanatomical basis of these differences using voxel-based morphometry and Freesurfer image analysis suite. Whole brain corrected analyses show that a person's propensity to be vicariously affected by injustice to others is reflected by the gray matter volume and thickness of the bilateral mid insular cortex. The larger a person's gray matter volume and thickness of the mid insula, the higher that person's sensitivity to injustice experienced by others. These findings show that the individual neuroanatomy of the mid insular cortex captures a person's predisposition to be vicariously affected by injustice, and thus adds a novel aspect to previous functional work that has linked this region to the processing of transient vicarious states.




Baumgartner, T., Saulin, A., Hein, G., & Knoch, D. (2016). Structural differences in insular cortex reflect vicarious injustice sensitivity. PLoS ONE, 11(12).

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