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Vicarious responses to social touch in posterior insular cortex are tuned to pleasant caressing speeds.

Journal article
Authors India Morrison
Malin Björnsdotter
Håkan Olausson
Published in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Volume 31
Issue 26
Pages 9554-62
ISSN 1529-2401
Publication year 2011
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 9554-62
Language en
Subject categories Medical and Health Sciences


Affective touch carries strong significance for social mammals, including humans. Gentle, dynamic touch of a kind that occurs during social interactions is preferentially encoded by a distinct neural pathway involving tactile C (CT) afferents, a type of unmyelinated afferent nerve found exclusively in hairy skin. CT afferents increase firing when the skin is stroked at a pleasant, caress-like speed of ∼3 cm/s, and their discharge frequency correlates with the subjective hedonic experience of the caress. In humans, the posterior insula is a cortical target for CT afferents. Since the potential social relevance of affective touch extends to the touch interactions of others, we postulated that information from CT afferents in posterior insular cortex provides a basis for encoding observed caresses.

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