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Mentalizing and the Role of the Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus in Sharing Others’ Embarrassment

Research group Gazzola
Publication year 2015
Published in Cerebral Cortex
Authors Frieder Michel Paulus, Laura Müller-Pinzler, Andreas Jansen, V. Gazzola, Sören Krach

The experience of embarrassment provides a highly salient cue for the human moral apparatus. Interestingly, people also experience embarrassment on behalf of others’ inappropriate conditions. The perceiver’s embarrassment often lacks an equivalent expression of embarrassment in the social counterpart. The present study examines this phenomenon and distinguishes neural circuits involved in embarrassment with and embarrassment for another person’s mishaps. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that the embarrassment on behalf of others engages the temporal pole and the medial prefrontal cortex, central structures of the mentalizing network, together with the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex. In contrast, sharing others’ embarrassment additionally stimulated the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), which exhibited increased functional integration with inferior parietal and insular cortex areas. These findings characterize common neural circuits involved in the embodied representation of embarrassment and further unravel the unique role of the posterior STS in sharing others’ affective state.

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