Overlapping neural response to the pain or harm of people, animals, and nature
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Interpersonal pain perception is a fundamental and evolutionarily beneficial social process. While critical for navigating the social world, whether or not people rely on similar processes to perceive and respond to the harm of the non-human biological world remains largely unknown. Here we investigate whether neural reactivity toward the suffering of other people is distinct from or overlapping with the neural response to pain and harm inflicted upon non-human entities, specifically animals and nature. We used fMRI to measure neural activity while participants (n=15) perceived and reported how badly they felt for the pain or harm of humans, animals, and nature, relative to neutral situations. Neural regions associated with perceiving the pain of other people (e.g. dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral anterior insula) were similarly recruited when perceiving and responding to painful scenes across people, animals, and nature. These results suggest that similar brain responses are relied upon when perceiving the harm of social and non-social biological entities, broadly construed, and that activity within the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and bilateral anterior insula in response to pain-relevant stimuli is not uniquely specific to human targets.