The neural basis of empathy.
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.
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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
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ABSTRACT: In using language, people not only exchange information, but also navigate their social world - for example, they can express themselves indirectly to avoid losing face. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the neural correlates of interpreting face-saving indirect replies, in a situation where participants only overheard the replies as part of a conversation between two other people, as well as in a situation where the participants were directly addressed themselves. We created a fictional job interview context where indirect replies serve as a natural communicative strategy to attenuate one's shortcomings, and asked fMRI participants to either pose scripted questions and receive answers from three putative job candidates (addressee condition) or to listen to someone else interview the same candidates (overhearer condition). In both cases, the need to evaluate the candidate ensured that participants had an active interest in comprehending the replies. Relative to direct replies, face-saving indirect replies increased activation in medial prefrontal cortex, bilateral temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), bilateral inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral middle temporal gyrus, in active overhearers and active addressees alike, with similar effect size, and comparable to findings obtained in an earlier passive listening study (Bašnáková et al., 2013). In contrast, indirectness effects in bilateral anterior insula and pregenual ACC, two regions implicated in emotional salience and empathy, were reliably stronger in addressees than in active overhearers. Our findings indicate that understanding face-saving indirect language requires additional cognitive perspective-taking and other discourse-relevant cognitive processing, to a comparable extent in active overhearers and addressees. Furthermore, they indicate that face-saving indirect language draws upon affective systems more in addressees than in overhearers, presumably because the addressee is the one being managed by a face-saving reply. In all, face-saving indirectness provides a window on the cognitive as well as affect-related neural systems involved in human communication. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.Neuropsychologia 04/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.03.030 · 3.45 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: In recent years, the evidence base for mindfulness interventions for PTSD has been rapidly expanding, as reflected in the 2010 Veterans Administration/ Department of Defense Clinical Practice Guideline. Considering the high prevalence, and chronic, debilitating nature of PTSD among US Service members and Veterans, engaging patients in collaborative care and educating them on how to self-manage their chronic mental illness can to lead to increased levels of functioning, reduced pain, improved health outcomes, and decreased health care costs. Because mindfulness approaches are safe, portable, affordable, and easy to learn, with increasing evidence of effectiveness as adjunctive PTSD treatment, they may help optimize standard PTSD care and prevent comorbidities. We will focus on modalities with the most evidence for PTSD: mindfulness meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), mantram repetition, yoga, and relaxation training. To help providers and policy makers to care for veterans, service members, and military families facing PTSD-related sequelae, this session reviews mindfulness from several aspects: how it is defined, its mechanism, key research findings, and the clinical applications of mindfulness for PTSD. In addition to a lecture section, a case study will be discussed and two practical skills taught: mindfulness meditation, and a brief yoga session. We will provide patient handout templates and a list of resources that could be easily adopted in clinical practice.167th Annual Meeting of American Psychiatric Association, New York, NY; 05/2014