The representation of pleasant touch in the brain and its relationship with taste and olfactory areas

Neuroreport. 1999 Feb 25;10(3):453-9. doi: 10.1097/00001756-199902250-00003.


Although there has been much investigation of brain pathways involved in pain, little is known about the brain mechanisms involved in processing somatosensory stimuli which feel pleasant. Employing fMRI it was shown that pleasant touch to the hand with velvet produced stronger activation of the orbitofrontal cortex than affectively neutral touch of the hand with wood. In contrast, the affectively neutral but more intense touch produced more activation of the primary somatosensory cortex than the pleasant stimulus. This indicates that part of the orbitofrontal cortex is concerned with representing the positively affective aspects of somatosensory stimuli, and in further experiments it was shown that this orbitofrontal area is different from that activated by taste and smell. The finding that three different primary or unlearned types of reinforcer (touch, taste, and smell) are represented in the orbitofrontal cortex helps to provide a firm foundation for understanding the neural basis of emotions, which can be understood in terms of states elicited by stimuli which are rewarding or punishing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*