Omni Brain

What does the insula do?

i-636d5a3fadd4e4d387398809a237b168-insula.gifI’m sure you remember all the articles last week telling us how people with strokes causing damage to the insula have reported that they no longer feel the urge to smoke. In this weeks New York Times health section Sandra Blakeslee explores the insula in depth, examining both the possible treatment options as well as the many other functions it serves.

Here’s a good snipit from the article:

If it does everything, what exactly is it that it does?

For example, the insula “lights up” in brain scans when people crave drugs, feel pain, anticipate pain, empathize with others, listen to jokes, see disgust on someone’s face, are shunned in a social settings, listen to music, decide not to buy an item, see someone cheat and decide to punish them, and determine degrees of preference while eating chocolate.

Damage to the insula can lead to apathy, loss of libido and an inability to tell fresh food from rotten.


  1. #1 John Wilkins
    February 6, 2007

    Right, I so want to give up living to stop smoking…

    Not appreciating chocolate. Bring on the emphysema!

  2. #2 BenP
    February 6, 2007

    With the hypothesis of damasio, it can explain a lot. By the way, I didn’t know that he changes of university !

  3. #3 onclepsycho
    February 8, 2007

    Yes, that’s a feeling I’ve had for a long time now: the insula is involved in too many things (at least in imaging studies). Lesions restricted to the insula are very rare however. My ex-colleague Carlo Cereda found only 4 such patients in a large retrospective study (Neurology 2002). No data on smoking-cessation however… This region is now quite fashionable in bodily awareness studies. Some years ago it was in emotional stuff, spatial orientation and before that in the auditory field. Wonder what’s next. By the way, there’s four insulas (insulae?), one anterior and one posterior for each hemisphere. Way for further research…

  4. #4 sara
    November 10, 2010

    does the insula accommodate with the senses and allow you to smell?

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