Monetary reward suppresses anterior insula activity during social pain
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Cristofori I
Harquel S
Isnard J
Mauguiere F
Sirigu A

Social pain after exclusion by others activates brain regions also involved in physical pain. Here we evaluated whether monetary reward could compensate for the negative feeling of social pain in the brain. To address this question we used the unique technique of intracranial electroencephalography in subjects with drug resistant epilepsy. Specifically, we recorded theta activity from intracranial electrodes implanted in the insular cortex while subjects experienced conditions of social inclusion and exclusion associated with monetary gain and loss. Our study confirmed that theta rhythm in the insular cortex is the neural signature of social exclusion. We found that while monetary gain suppresses the effect of social pain in the anterior insula, there is no such effect in the posterior insula. These results imply that the anterior insula can use secondary reward signals to compensate for the negative feeling of social pain. Hence, here we propose that the anterior insula plays a pivotal role in integrating contingencies to update social pain feelings. Finally, the possibility to modulate the theta rhythm through the reward system might open new avenues of research for treating pathologies related to social exclusion.