Suppose scientists could figure out how to tweak the insula without damaging it. They might be able to create that famed and elusive free lunch — an effortless way to kick the cigarette habit.
That dream, which may not be too far off, puts the insula in the spotlight. What is the insula and how could it possibly exert such profound effects on human behavior?
According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.
They say it is the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music.
Its anatomy and evolution shed light on the profound differences between humans and other animals.
The insula also reads body states like hunger and craving and helps push people into reaching for the next sandwich, cigarette or line of cocaine. So insula research offers new ways to think about treating drug addiction, alcoholism, anxiety and eating disorders.
Of course, so much about the brain remains to be discovered that the insula’s role may be a minor character in the play of the human mind. It is just now coming on stage.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/06/health/psychology/06brain.html?ex=1328418000&en=3e7d68c53f108dd2&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss