Role of the Insula in Human Cognition and Motivation

  • Oreste de DivitiisEmail author
  • Teresa Somma
  • D’Urso Giordano
  • Mehmet Turgut
  • Paolo Cappabianca


The insula is a “hub” where the subjective feelings of humans regulate emotion, cognition, and motivation. Indeed, the sensorial inputs reach the posterior section of the insula and are then redirected to the anterior part where many connections with other cortical regions take place. Therefore, a pleasant stimulus induces an action aimed at the persistence of that feeling, while unpleasant interoceptive information leads to avoidant behaviors.


Cognition Emotion Explicit motivation Hub Insula Interoceptive information 


  1. 1.
    Kurth F, Zilles K, Fox PT, Laird AR, Eickhoff SB. A link between the systems: functional differentiation and integration within the human insula revealed by meta-analysis. Brain Struct Funct. 2010;214(5–6):519–34.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pavuluri M, May A. I feel, therefore, I am: the insula and its role in human emotion, cognition and the sensory-motor system. AIMS Neurosci. 2015;2:18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Eckert MA, Menon V, Walczak A, Ahlstrom J, Denslow S, Horwitz A, Dubno JR. At the heart of the ventral attention system: the right anterior insula. Hum Brain Mapp. 2009;30:2530–41.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Yarkoni T, Barch DM, Gray JR, Conturo TE, Braver TS. BOLD correlates of trial-by-trial reaction time variability in gray and white matter: a multi-study fMRI analysis. PLoS One. 2009;4:e4257.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Augustine JR. Circuitry and functional aspects of the insular lobe in primates including humans. Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1996;22:229–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Chang LJ, Yarkoni T, Khaw MW, Sanfey AG. Decoding the role of the insula in human cognition: functional parcellation and large-scale reverse inference. Cereb Cortex. 2013;23:739–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Aiba T, Tanaka R, Koike T, Kameyama S, Takeda N, Komata T. Natural history of intracranial cavernous malformations. J Neurosurg. 1995;83:56–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Craig AD. How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2002;3:655–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Craig AD. How do you feel-now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009;10:59–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Namkung H, Kim SH, Sawa A. The insula: an underestimated brain area in clinical neuroscience, psychiatry, and neurology. Trends Neurosci. 2017;40:200–7.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Damasio A. Feelings of emotion and the self. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003;1001:253–61.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Bauernfeind AL, de Sousa AA, Avasthi T, Dobson SD, Raghanti MA, Lewandowski AH, Zilles K, Semendeferi K, Allman JM, Craig AD, Hof PR, Sherwood CC. A volumetric comparison of the insular cortex and its subregions in primates. J Hum Evol. 2013;64:263–79.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Uddin LQ. Salience processing and insular cortical function and dysfunction. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2015;16:55–61.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Stephani C, Fernandez-Baca Vaca G, Maciunas R, Koubeissi M, Lüders HO. Functional neuroanatomy of the insular lobe. Brain Struct Funct. 2011;216:137–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cauda F, Torta DM, Sacco K, D'Agata F, Geda E, Duca S, Geminiani G, Vercelli A. Functional anatomy of cortical areas characterized by Von Economo neurons. Brain Struct Funct. 2013;218:1–20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Santos M, Uppal N, Butti C, Wicinski B, Schmeidler J, Giannakopoulos P, Heinsen H, Schmitz C, Hof PR. Von Economo neurons in autism: a stereologic study of the frontoinsular cortex in children. Brain Res. 2011;1380:206–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Uddin LQ, Menon V. The anterior insula in autism: under-connected and under-examined. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009;33:1198–203.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Wiech K, Jbabdi S, Lin CS, Andersson J, Tracey I. Differential structural and resting state connectivity between insular subdivisions and other pain-related brain regions. Pain. 2014;155:2047–55.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    McGrath CL, Kelley ME, Holtzheimer PE, Dunlop BW, Craighead WE, Franco AR, Craddock RC, Mayberg HS. Toward a neuroimaging treatment selection biomarker for major depressive disorder. JAMA Psychiat. 2013;70:821–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Rolland B, Amad A, Poulet E, Bordet R, Vignaud A, Bation R, Delmaire C, Thomas P, Cottencin O, Jardri R. Resting-state functional connectivity of the nucleus accumbens in auditory and visual hallucinations in schizophrenia. Schizophr Bull. 2015;41:291–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oreste de Divitiis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Teresa Somma
    • 1
  • D’Urso Giordano
    • 2
  • Mehmet Turgut
    • 3
  • Paolo Cappabianca
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Neurosciences, Reproductive and Odontostomatological SciencesUniversità degli Studi di Napoli Federico IINaplesItaly
  2. 2.Division of Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Anesthesiology and PharmacoutilizationUniversità degliStudi di Napoli Federico IINaplesItaly
  3. 3.Department of NeurosurgeryAdnan Menderes University School of MedicineAydınTurkey

Personalised recommendations