Overactivation of posterior insular, postcentral, and temporal regions during preserved experience of envy in autism

The European journal of neuroscience

Eur J Neurosci. 2023 Jan 11. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15911. Online ahead of print.


Social emotions are critical to successfully navigate in a complex social world because they promote self-regulation of behavior. Difficulties in social behavior are at the core of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, social emotions and their neural correlates have been scarcely investigated in this population. In particular, the experience of envy has not been addressed in ASD despite involving neurocognitive processes crucially compromised in this condition. Here, we used an fMRI adapted version of a well-validated task to investigate the subjective experience of envy and its neural correlates in adults with ASD (n = 30) in comparison with neurotypical controls (n = 28). Results revealed that both groups reported similarly intense experience of envy in association with canonical activation in the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula, among other regions. However, in participants with ASD, the experience of envy was accompanied by overactivation of the posterior insula, the postcentral gyrus, and the posterior superior temporal gyrus, regions subserving the processing of painful experiences and mentalizing. This pattern of results suggests that individuals with ASD may use compensatory strategies based on the embodied amplification of pain and additional mentalizing efforts to shape their subjective experience of envy. Results have relevant implications to better understand the heterogeneity of this condition and to develop new intervention targets.

PMID:36628571 | DOI:10.1111/ejn.15911


Sol Fittipaldi
Jorge L Armony
Joaquín Migeot
Matías Cadaveira
Agustín Ibáñez
Sandra Baez