Healthcare experience disrupts representational similarity between one’s and others’ pain in middle-anterior insula
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Description: Medical students and professional healthcare providers often underestimate patients’ pain, an effect associated with decreased neural response of the anterior insula to pain information. However, the functional significance of these neural modulations is still debated. Across two experiments, we recruited university medical students and emergency caregivers to test the role of healthcare experience on the neural reactivity to other’s pain, emotions, and beliefs. We confirmed that healthcare experience decreased the activity in the anterior insula the sensitivity to others’ suffering. This effect was independent from stimulus modality (pictures, texts), but specific for pain, as it did not generalize to other states. Critically, multivariate pattern analysis revealed that healthcare experience impacted specifically a component of the neural representation of others’ pain shared with that of first-hand nociception. This suggests a reduced likelihood of appraising others’ sufferance as one’s own, and might offer a mechanistic explanation for pain underestimation in clinical settings.