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Negative association between anterior insula activation and resilience during sustained attention: an fMRI twin study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2022

Arthur Montalto
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Haeme R. P. Park
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Leanne M. Williams
Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Centers VISN21, Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto,CA, 94304-151-Y, USA
Mayuresh S. Korgaonkar
Brain Dynamics Centre, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Miranda R. Chilver
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Javad Jamshidi
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Peter R. Schofield
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Medical Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Justine M. Gatt*
Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Author for correspondence: Justine Gatt, E-mail:



While previous studies have suggested that higher levels of cognitive performance may be related to greater wellbeing and resilience, little is known about the associations between neural circuits engaged by cognitive tasks and wellbeing and resilience, and whether genetics or environment contribute to these associations.


The current study consisted of 253 monozygotic and dizygotic adult twins, including a subsample of 187 early-life trauma-exposed twins, with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging data from the TWIN-E study. Wellbeing was measured using the COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale while resilience was defined as a higher level of positive adaptation (higher levels of wellbeing) in the presence of trauma exposure. We probed both sustained attention and working memory processes using a Continuous Performance Task in the scanner.


We found significant negative associations between resilience and activation in the bilateral anterior insula engaged during sustained attention. Multivariate twin modelling showed that the association between resilience and the left and right insula activation was mostly driven by common genetic factors, accounting for 71% and 87% of the total phenotypic correlation between these variables, respectively. There were no significant associations between wellbeing/resilience and neural activity engaged during working memory updating.


The findings suggest that greater resilience to trauma is associated with less activation of the anterior insula during a condition requiring sustained attention but not working memory updating. This possibly suggests a pattern of ‘neural efficiency’ (i.e. more efficient and/or attenuated activity) in people who may be more resilient to trauma.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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Negative association between anterior insula activation and resilience during sustained attention: an fMRI twin study
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Negative association between anterior insula activation and resilience during sustained attention: an fMRI twin study
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Negative association between anterior insula activation and resilience during sustained attention: an fMRI twin study
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