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Pictures of disgusting foods and disgusted facial expressions suppress the tongue motor cortex


Vicario, CM and Rafal, RD and Borgomaneri, S and Paracampo, R and Kritikos, A and Avenanti, A, Pictures of disgusting foods and disgusted facial expressions suppress the tongue motor cortex, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12, (2) pp. 352-362. ISSN 1749-5024 (2017) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2016 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1093/scan/nsw129


The tongue holds a unique role in gustatory disgust. However, it is unclear whether the tongue representation in the motor cortex (tM1) is affected by the sight of distaste-related stimuli. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in healthy humans, we recorded tongue motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as an index of tM1 cortico-hypoglossal excitability. MEPs were recorded while participants viewed pictures associated with gustatory disgust and revulsion (i.e. rotten foods and faces expressing distaste), non-oral-related disgusting stimuli (i.e. invertebrates like worms) and control stimuli. We found that oral-related disgust pictures suppressed tM1 cortico-hypoglossal output. This tM1 suppression was predicted by interindividual differences in disgust sensitivity. No similar suppression was found for disgusting invertebrates or when MEPs were recorded from a control muscle. These findings suggest that revulsion-eliciting food pictures trigger anticipatory inhibition mechanisms, possibly preventing toxin swallowing and contamination. A similar suppression is elicited when viewing distaste expressions, suggesting vicarious motor inhibition during social perception of disgust. Our study suggests an avoidant-defensive mechanism in human cortico-hypoglossal circuits and its ‘resonant’ activation in the vicarious experience of others’ distaste. These findings support a role for the motor system in emotion-driven motor anticipation and social cognition.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:disgust, emotion recognition, transcranial magnetic stimulation, motor-evoked potentials, tongue motor area
Research Division:Biomedical and Clinical Sciences
Research Group:Neurosciences
Research Field:Neurosciences not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in psychology
UTAS Author:Vicario, CM (Dr Carmelo Vicario)
ID Code:114368
Year Published:2017 (online first 2016)
Web of Science® Times Cited:19
Deposited By:Psychology
Deposited On:2017-02-14
Last Modified:2018-03-23
Downloads:88 View Download Statistics

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