Morrison Lab: The Embodied Brain Lab

India Morrison, researcher at BKV. Teaser image for the Department BKV.
Thor Balkhed

The functional neuroanatomy of the human brain is fundamentally shaped by its interactions with the body, and each person’s brain is even further nested in its own set of social relationships. The Embodied Brain Lab aims to better understand the emotional and motivational aspects of touch and pain, while taking the bodily and social embedding of the human brain into account.

Photo credit Thor Balkhed Have you ever felt calmed by the gentle touch of a loved one? Have you ever cringed at the threat of pain? Researchers in the Embodied Brain Lab are engaged in mapping what happens in the brain (neuroimaging) and body (neurophysiology) in circumstances like these. We use different experimental methods and approaches to investigate two main topics. The first is social touch, which often occurs in emotional interactions between people. The second is acute pain, which can affect behavior by dampening or energizing specific processes in the brain.

Social touch and acute pain may seem quite different, but both can be studied from the perspective of how they influence emotion, motivation, and behavior. Our work aims to advance our understanding of how the human brain enables such “affective” aspects of touch and pain, whether by the adaptive modification of behavior via actions (such as returning a fond caress), or by the regulation of bodily changes (such as heartbeat and hormone release).


Research projects

Oxytocin and Touch

This project promises a glimpse into how the highly social human brain uses both contextual and tactile information in social interactions.

Starting from a seemingly simple skin-to-skin contact, tactile interactions can trigger a broad array of responses in the body, ranging from emotional feelings to physiological changes. Some of these changes may be mediated by the hormone oxytocin. This project uses blood hormone measurements and functional resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate endogenous (internally-produced) hormonal and brain responses to social touch in humans. This collaborative project with Linda Handlin at the University of Skövde promises a glimpse into how the highly social human brain uses both contextual and tactile information in social interactions.

The Morrison Lab: The Embodied Brain Lab. Photo credit Thor Balkhed

Pain and Action

This project explores the central role of action in the way the brain processes the sensory signals of pain.

We have previously demonstrated that certain regions of cortex that are frequently implicated in pain play a central role in motivating and executing action, yet in a manner not specific to pain (Perini et al, J Neurosci, 2013). Since pain and behavior are so tightly intertwined, we are currently investigating the impact of making overt actions to reduce pain—not only on how the brain processes sensory signals, but how it may even shape expectations and decisions about pain. Our collaborative work with behavioral economists and psychologists Gustav Tinghög and Daniel Västfjäll (from the Judgement, Emotion, Decision, and Intuition lab) has shown that acute pain can increase risky decision-making (Koppel et al, Exp Econ, 2017).

The Morrison Lab: The Embodied Brain Lab. Photo credit Thor Balkhed

Social Touch Phenotype

Many everyday social interactions involve touch, from ritual gestures (e.g., handshakes) to emotionally rich signals (e.g., caresses, hugs).

Although most people instinctively utilise touch in social interactions, there is considerable individual variation in how social touch is perceived. This project investigates how an individual’s physiological and psychological makeup and their social environment influence touch in social interactions: a “touch phenotype”. Are there population-level patterns in such touch phenotypes, and how do they correspond to factors such as the closeness of a social relationship, the “thrills and chills” of touch, or even stress and loneliness? This project combines methods including body mapping (Suvilehto et al, PNAS, 2015), digital phenotyping using technological interfaces like phone apps, charting of physiological traits such as autonomic nervous system responses and density of the nerves in the skin using corneal confocal microscopy (CCM; in collaboration with Dr Neil Lagali and Dr Sarah McIntyre), as well as facial muscle responses using facial electromyography (fEMG; in collaboration with Dr Leah Mayo).

The Morrison Lab: The Embodied Brain Lab. Photo credit Thor Balkhed


Selected publications

Novembre G, Zanon M, Morrison I, Ambron E. (2019). Bodily sensations in social scenarios: Where in the body? PLoS One.14(6):e0206270. Continue to DOI.

Mayo LM, Lindé J, Olausson H, Heilig M, and Morrison I. (2018). Putting a good face on touch: facial expression reflects the affective valence of caress-like touch across modalities. Biological Psychology 137: 344-62. Continue to DOI.

Morrison, I. (2016). Keep calm and cuddle on: social touch as stress buffer. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 2: 83-90. Continue to DOI

Koppel L, Andersson D, Morrison I, Posadzy K, Västfjäll D, Tinghög G. (2017). The effect of acute pain on risky and intertemporal choice. Exp Econ. 2017;20(4):878-893. Continue to DOI.

Perini I, Tavakoli M, Marshall A, Minde J, Morrison I. (2016). Rare human nerve growth factor-β mutation reveals relationship between C-afferent density and acute pain evaluation. J Neurophysiol.116(2):425-30. Continue to DOI

Perini, I., Olausson, H., and Morrison, I. (2015). Seeking pleasant touch: neural correlates of behavioral preferences for skin stroking. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 9:8. Continue to DOI

Latest publications in LiU DiVA


Juulia Suvilehto, Asta Cekaite, India Morrison (2023) The why, who and how of social touch NATURE REVIEWS PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 2, p. 606-621 Continue to DOI
Juhani Ojala, Juulia Suvilehto, Lauri Nummenmaa, Eija Kalso (2023) Bodily maps of emotions and pain: tactile and hedonic sensitivity in healthy controls and patients experiencing chronic pain Pain, Vol. 164, p. 2665-2674 Continue to DOI
India Morrison (2023) Touching to connect, explore, and explain: how the human brain makes social touch meaningful The Senses & Society, Vol. 18, p. 92-109 Continue to DOI
Lina Koppel, Giovanni Novembre, Robin Kämpe, Mattias Savallampi, India Morrison (2023) Prediction and action in cortical pain processing Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 33, p. 794-810 Continue to DOI
Linda Handlin, Giovanni Novembre, Helene Lindholm, Robin Kämpe, Elisabeth Paul, India Morrison (2023) Human endogenous oxytocin and its neural correlates show adaptive responses to social touch based on recent social context eLIFE, Vol. 12, Article e81197 Continue to DOI


Group members