Combined to a Unique Degree

Your right frontal insula “lights up” when you feel all the quintessential human emotions— love, hate, disgust, gratitude, resentment, self-confidence, embarrassment, trust, distrust, empathy, contempt, approval, disdain, pride, humiliation, truthfulness, deceit, atonement, guilt. It also lights up when you feel strong sensations, from physical pain to a fluttery stomach to tingling loins.

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This dual physical-emotional sensitivity is not just a coincidence. The right frontal insula is where conscious physical sensation and conscious emotional awareness co-emerge. Consider this amazing fact: the right frontal insula is active both when you experience literal physical pain and when you experience the psychic “pain” of rejection or the social exclusion of being shunned. It lights up when you feel someone is treating you unfairly.

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In every brain-imaging study ever done of every human emotion, the right frontal insula and anterior cingulate cortex light up together, [Arthur] Craig [a neuroanatomist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix] says. He takes this to mean that in humans, emotions, feelings, motivations, ideas and intentions are combined to a unique degree, and that this is a key element of our humanity.