What neural mechanism underlies the capacity to understand the emotions of others? Does this mechanism involve brain areas normally involved in experiencing the same emotion? We performed an fMRI study in which participants inhaled odorants producing a strong feeling of disgust. The same participants observed video clips showing the emotional facial expression of disgust. Observing such faces and feeling disgust activated the same sites in the anterior insula and to a lesser extent in the anterior cingulate cortex. Thus, as observing hand actions activates the observer's motor representation of that action, observing an emotion activates the neural representation of that emotion. This finding provides a unifying mechanism for understanding the behaviors of others.
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