The Neural Basis of Empathy

Department of Social Neuroscience, Max-Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstraße 1a, 04309 Leipzig, Germany.
Annual Review of Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 22.66). 07/2012; 35(1):1-23. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150536
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Empathy--the ability to share the feelings of others--is fundamental to our emotional and social lives. Previous human imaging studies focusing on empathy for others' pain have consistently shown activations in regions also involved in the direct pain experience, particularly anterior insula and anterior and midcingulate cortex. These findings suggest that empathy is, in part, based on shared representations for firsthand and vicarious experiences of affective states. Empathic responses are not static but can be modulated by person characteristics, such as degree of alexithymia. It has also been shown that contextual appraisal, including perceived fairness or group membership of others, may modulate empathic neuronal activations. Empathy often involves coactivations in further networks associated with social cognition, depending on the specific situation and information available in the environment. Empathy-related insular and cingulate activity may reflect domain-general computations representing and predicting feeling states in self and others, likely guiding adaptive homeostatic responses and goal-directed behavior in dynamic social contexts.

  • Source
    • "Activity in the AI is thought to represent a simulated mapping of the observed indi - vidual ' s body state onto one ' s own ( Fan et al . , 2011 ; Bernhardt and Singer , 2012 ) . Two studies have linked subsequent prosocial behav - ior with AI activity when viewing another ' s suffering ( Hein et al . "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Although kindness-based contemplative practices are increasingly employed by clinicians and cognitive researchers to enhance prosocial emotions, social cognitive skills, and well-being, and as a tool to understand the basic workings of the social mind, we lack a coherent theoretical model with which to test the mechanisms by which kindness-based meditation may alter the brain and body. Here, we link contemplative accounts of compassion and loving-kindness practices with research from social cognitive neuroscience and social psychology to generate predictions about how diverse practices may alter brain structure and function and related aspects of social cognition. Contingent on the nuances of the practice, kindness-based meditation may enhance the neural systems related to faster and more basic perceptual or motor simulation processes, simulation of another's affective body state, slower and higher-level perspective-taking, modulatory processes such as emotion regulation and self/other discrimination, and combinations thereof.This theoretical model will be discussed alongside best practices for testing such a model and potential implications and applications of future work.
    Frontiers in Psychology 03/2015; 6. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00109 · 2.80 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "In regard to pain processing, the insula may consist of two different functional parts as the anterior insula shows the described dichotomic reorganization behavior from transient to chronic pain, while the posterior insula does not. The different parts are believed to have different functions in regard to sensation, emotion and behavior (Ploner et al., 2011; Bernhardt and Singer, 2012; McGlone et al., 2012; Gerstner et al., 2012 "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Cluster headache (CH) is characterized by recurrent episodes of excruciatingly painful, unilateral headache attacks typically accompanied by trigeminal autonomic symptoms. Due to its rhythm with alternating episodes of pain and no-pain, it is an excellent model to investigate whether structural brain changes detected by magnetic resonance based voxel-based-morphometry (VBM) reflect the cause of the disease, may be a consequence of the underlying disease other than pain, or may simply be caused by the sensation of pain itself. We investigated 91 patients with CH in different stages of their disease using VBM and compared them to 78 age- and gender-matched healthy controls. We detected distinct regional gray matter (GM) changes in different brain regions including the temporal lobe, the hippocampus, the insular cortex and the cerebellum. The extent, location and direction of observed GM alterations depended on the state of disease and appeared dynamic in relation to pain state (i.e., pain vs. no-pain). No hypothalamic changes were detected in CH patients compared to healthy controls. The GM changes observed in this study are highly dynamic and thereby reflect the cortical plasticity of the brain in regard to pain. This observed dynamic may provide an explanation of the diverse results of previous VBM studies in pain. Regarding CH the results suggest that the disease is more likely to be caused by a network dysfunction rather than by a single malfunctioning structure.
    Clinical neuroimaging 12/2014; 6. DOI:10.1016/j.nicl.2014.10.003 · 2.53 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "This condition is characterized by lack of ability to experience feelings defined as " emotional numbing (EN) " [3]. It is well known that the ability to share the physiological and emotional states of others is a basic dimension of empathy [4], which is broadly defined as the experiencing of an affective or sensory state similar to that shown by another individual [5]. Empathy has been recently described to include two dimensions [6] [7]: the cognitive component, known as theory of mind, consisting of the ability to understand and explain the mental states of others [8] [9], and the emotional component, referring to the individuals' own experience of the others actual or inferred emotional state [10] [11]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The aim of this study is to evaluate the empathic ability and its functional brain correlates in Post-traumatic stress disorder subjects (PTSD). Seven PTSD subjects and ten healthy controls, all present in the L'Aquila area during the earthquake of the April 2009, underwent fMRI during which they performed a modified version of the Multifaceted Empathy Test. PTSD patients showed impairments in implicit and explicit emotional empathy, but not in cognitive empathy. Brain responses during cognitive empathy showed an increased activation in patients compared to controls in the right medial frontal gyrus and the left inferior frontal gyrus. During implicit emotional empathy responses patients with PTSD, compared to controls, exhibited greater neural activity in the left pallidum and right insula; instead the control group showed an increased activation in right inferior frontal gyrus. Finally, in the explicit emotional empathy responses the PTSD group showed a reduced neural activity in the left insula and the left inferior frontal gyrus. The behavioral deficit limited to the emotional empathy dimension, accompanied by different patterns of activation in empathy related brain structures, represent a first piece of evidence of a dissociation between emotional and cognitive empathy in PTSD patients. The present findings support the idea that empathy is a multidimensional process, with different facets depending on distinct anatomical substrates. Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier B.V.
    Behavioural Brain Research 12/2014; 282. DOI:10.1016/j.bbr.2014.12.049 · 3.39 Impact Factor
Show more