Inner experience of pain: imagination of pain while viewing images showing painful events forms subjective pain representation in human brain.
Pain is an unpleasant sensation, and at the same time, it is always subjective and affective. Ten healthy subjects viewed 3 counterbalanced blocks of images from the International Affective Picture System: images showing painful events and those evoking emotions of fear and rest. They were instructed to imagine pain in their own body while viewing each image showing a painful event (the imagination of pain). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we compared cerebral hemodynamic responses during the imagination of pain with those to emotions of fear and rest. The results show that the imagination of pain is associated with increased activity in several brain regions involved in the pain-related neural network, notably the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), right anterior insula, cerebellum, posterior parietal cortex, and secondary somatosensory cortex region, whereas increased activity in the ACC and amygdala is associated with the viewing of images evoking fear. Our results indicate that the imagination of pain even without physical injury engages the cortical representations of the pain-related neural network more specifically than emotions of fear and rest; it also engages the common representation (i.e., in ACC) between the imagination of pain and the emotion of fear.