PreprintPDF Available

GREATER EMPATHIC ABILITIES AND THEIR CORELATION WITH RESTING STATE BRAIN CONNECTIVITY IN PSYCHOTHERAPISTS COMPARED TO NON-PSYCHOTHERAPISTS

Authors:
Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.

Abstract and Figures

Psychotherapists constantly regulate their own perspective and emotions to better understand the other state. We compared 52 psychotherapists with 92 non-psychotherapists to characterized psychometric constructs like, Fantasy (FS) and Perspective Taking (PT), and the emotion regulation strategy of Expressive Suppression (ES), which hampers the empathic response. Psychotherapists showed greater FS, PT and lower ES scores. In a subsample (36, 18 ea.), we did a functional connectivity (FC) study. Psychotherapists showed greater FC between the left anterior insula and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex; and less connectivity between rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the orbito prefrontal cortex. Both associations correlated with the PT scores and suggest a cognitive regulatory effect related to the empathic response. Considering, that the psychometric differences between groups were in the cognitive domain and that the FC associations are related to cognitive processes, these results suggest that psychotherapists have a greater cognitive regulation over their empathic response.
Content may be subject to copyright.
GREATER EMPATHIC ABILITIES AND THEIR CORELATION WITH RESTING STATE BRAIN CONNECTIVITY IN
PSYCHOTHERAPISTS COMPARED TO NON-PSYCHOTHERAPISTS
Victor E. Olalde-Mathieu1, Federica Sassi2, Azalea Reyes-Aguilar3, Roberto E. Mercadillo4, Sarael
Alcauter1,*, Fernando A. Barrios1,*
1 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Neurobiología, Querétaro, México
2 Universidad Loyola Andalucía, Sevilla, España
3 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Facultad de Psicología, Ciudad de México, México
4 Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Iztapalapa, Ciudad de México, México
*Corresponding Authors
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Campus Juriquilla
Blvd. Juriquilla 3001, Querétaro, Querétaro, 76230, México
+52(442)2381-53
alcauter@inb.unam.mx
barrios@inb.unam.mx
ABSTRACT
Psychotherapists constantly regulate their own perspective and emotions to better understand the
“other’s” state. We compared 52 psychotherapists with 92 non-psychotherapists to characterized
psychometric constructs like, Fantasy (FS) and Perspective Taking (PT), and the emotion regulation
strategy of Expressive Suppression (ES), which hampers the empathic response. Psychotherapists showed
greater FS, PT and lower ES scores. In a subsample (36, 18 ea.), we did a functional connectivity (FC) study.
Psychotherapists showed greater FC between the left anterior insula and the dorsomedial prefrontal
cortex; and less connectivity between rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the orbito prefrontal cortex.
Both associations correlated with the PT scores and suggest a cognitive regulatory effect related to the
empathic response. Considering, that the psychometric differences between groups were in the cognitive
domain and that the FC associations are related to cognitive processes, these results suggest that
psychotherapists have a greater cognitive regulation over their empathic response.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
INTRODUCTION
Empathy is an essential part of all human social interactions; hence a proper regulation of our empathic
response can facilitate better social relations in our daily lives. This is especially true in health care
environments, where the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients, has a crucial role
in determining therapy success (Goldsmith et al., 2015; Watson et al., 2014). Empathy can be considered
as an ‘umbrella’ term that encompasses all processes that emerge, so an observer could understand the
“other’s” state by activating their own neural and mental representations of that state. In this view,
empathy is a multicomponent process that encompasses cognitive processes, such as mentalizing or
emotional regulation, and affective processes such as empathic concern or emotional detection, to name
a few (de Waal & Preston, 2017; Decety, 2011; Tousignant et al., 2017; Zaki & Ochsner, 2012). Taking into
account the nature of sub-processes that are involved in the empathic response, it is easy to address
empathy as a personalized phenomenon which response can be regulated. Thus, diverse sub-process can
show differences within sexes or be sensible to training. For instance, women tend to be more empathic
than men in relation with affective sub-process, e.g. empathic concern, measure by psychometric,
psychological and fMRI tasks (Chrysikou & Thompson, 2016; Mercadillo et al., 2015; Reyes-Aguilar &
Barrios, 2016). These differences are also present in the way women suppress their emotions, which is
less than men (Flynn et al., 2010). Furthermore, training or professional practice could alter the way we
empathized, e.g., loving-kindness expert mediators tend to show more compassion and empathic
concern; whereas cognitive perspective taking training could alter mentalizing abilities towards the
other (Klimecki et al., 2013; Singer & Engert, 2019; Teding van Berkhout & Malouff, 2016).
In a therapeutic environment a proper regulation of the empathic response strengthens the patient-
therapist relationship incrementing therapy success (Goldsmith et al., 2015; Teding van Berkhout &
Malouff, 2016). Given the dynamic interaction with their patient, psychotherapists need to constantly
regulate their empathic response. One way to do this is through the exertion of cognitive control to
regulate their own perspective taking and emotional appreciation (Decety, 2011; Ickes, 2016; Lamm et al.,
2007; Norcross, John C & Lambert, Michael J, 2019; Rogers, 1992). Part of this, involves avoiding prejudice
or rapid judgements, and the use of expressive suppression as an emotional regulation strategy, which
hinders empathy (Gross & John, 2003). The constant regulation of such cognitive processes, involves the
recruitment of several brain areas, like the left anterior insula (lAi) and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex
(rACC). Both areas have been related to diverse empathy sub-processes and emotional regulation
strategies. The lAi plays a key role in interoception, forms part of the empathy core network and correlates
with affective and cognitive empathy processes, like perspective taking (Fan et al., 2011; Uddin et al.,
2017). It has been related to the use of expressive suppression as an emotional regulation strategy
(Giuliani et al., 2011; Goldin et al., 2008). The rACC has been associated to emotional regulation, self-
regulation, inhibitory emotional control in the use of expressive suppression, and in affective empathy
tasks (de Waal & Preston, 2017; Etkin et al., 2015; Kunz et al., 2011).
One way to characterize brain areas interactions, without associating them to a specific stimulus, is by a
resting state functional connectivity (FC) study; which is a good first approach when studying cognitive
processes that encompass several sub-processes, as in the case of empathy (Guerra-Carrillo et al., 2014).
Research has shown that experienced professionals present differences in brain functional connectivity,
e. g. musicians, meditators (Palomar-García et al., 2017; Taylor et al., 2013). Although, some studies
suggest that different types of socio-affective and cognitive training influence changes in the brain (Cohen
et al., 2016; Singer & Engert, 2019). To the extent of the reviewed literature, there are no studies that
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
assess the FC of experience professionals of socio-affective and socio-cognitive skills, such as the case of
psychotherapists. A characterization of their empathic abilities and use of emotional regulation strategies,
could start to shed light into the abilities present in a population, immerse in an environment that requires
a constant and dynamic regulation of the empathic response, aimed to strengthen the therapeutic-
relationship and thus therapy success. This characterization, from the therapist perspective, could further
our understanding of the role of empathy, which is base for a successful patient-therapist relationship.
We hypothesized that if psychotherapists explicitly regulate their empathic response, this regulation will
be shown, in differences in their behavioral questioners, between groups and in the expected sex
differences, and in their functional connectivity related to cognitive processes of the empathic response,
when compare to non-psychoterapists. To test this hypothesis, we applied two behavioral questioners,
the Inter Reactivity Index (IRI) (M. Davis, 1980) and the Emotional Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ)(Gross
& John, 2003); in a sample of 52 psychotherapists and 92 non-psychotherapists, where group variables of
socioeconomic status, sex, age and years of formal studies were controlled. All participants had over 2
years of practice in their respective fields. To evaluate if there were any differences in their functional
connectivity we did a voxelwise ROI analysis using lAi and rACC as seeds, in a sub-sample of 36 (18 per
group) more experience participants (> 6 years of practice).
METHODS
Participants
A sample of 52 psychotherapists (age: 50.1 ± 9 years; 32 women) and 92 non-psychotherapists (age: 52.3
± 10 years; 41 women) participated in this study; all of them had over 2 years of professional experience
and were professionally active. Group variables of age, sex, socioeconomic status and years of formal
studies were controlled. Individuals in the psychotherapists group had completed postgraduate studies
of psychotherapy. Individuals in the non-psychotherapists group also had completed postgraduate
studies, but their studies were from fields of knowledge unrelated to psychotherapy. All participants that
agreed to participate signed an informed consent form. For the resting state fMRI (rsfMRI) study, we took
a 36 sub-sample of 18 psychotherapists (age: 54.4 ± 7 years; 9 women) and 18 non-psychotherapists (age:
54.6 ± 7 years; 9 women); all of them were right handed, had over 6 years of professional experience and
were professionally active. Group variables of age, sex, socioeconomic status and years of formal studies
were controlled. The postgraduate studies from the non-psychotherapists group were from seven
different fields of knowledge (according to Mexico’s INEGI categorization, Supplemental Material, Table
S1), all the professions were unrelated to psychotherapy. Exclusion criteria included neurological
disorders, use of psychopharmaceuticals, alexithymia and depression assessed by interview and
psychometric tests (Beck depression inventory, BDII; Toronto Alexithimia Scale, TAS-20) (Bagby et al.,
1994; Beck et al., 1961); excessive movement during MRI acquisition was also considered within the
criteria; none of the participants were excluded. All participants signed an informed consent.
Experimental protocols were approved by the institutional bioethics committee and followed the
guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki.
Psychometric tests
We used the interpersonal reactivity index (IRI) (M. Davis, 1980; M. H. Davis, 1983) to assess both
cognitive and affective empathy. These four subscales are: Fantasy (FS), Perspective Taking (PT), Empathic
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Concern (EC), and Personal Distress (PD), and refer to two cognitive factors (FS, PT) and two affective ones
(EC, PD). The IRI is a 28-item self-report questionnaire which responses are measured on a 5-point Likert-
type scale ranging from 4 (describes me very well) to 0 (does not describe me well), each of the four
subscales are comprised by 7 items, with subscales scored as the sum of the items.
The emotional regulation questionnaire (ERQ) (Gross & John, 2003) was also applied to the sample. The
ERQ is a 10-item self-report questionnaire that measures the tendency of an individual to use reappraisal
and expressive suppression as emotion regulation strategies. The responses are measure on a seven-point
Likert scale ranging from 7 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree). The ERQ consists of two non-
correlated subscales Expressive Suppression (four items) and Reappraisal (six items), with subscales
scored as the mean of the items.
Data Analysis
The test were scored as the respective authors stated (M. Davis, 1980; Gross & John, 2003). For group and
gender comparisons, all data was converted to z-values. Differences between groups and intragroup
(gender) were evaluated by a two sample t-test. To evaluate the correlations between variables in each
group we employed Pearson correlations. To control false positives due to multiple comparisons, false
discovery rate (FDR) was used in both the two sample t-test and the Pearson correlations. To assess sex
effects between groups a two factor (group and sex) ANOVA was applied, to explore the differences due
to sex within and between, groups a post-hoc Tukey HSD was done.
Imaging
Brain images were acquired with a 3T MR scanner (General Electric, Waukesha, WI), using a 32-channel
array head coil. Whole brain resting state images were acquired using a gradient recalled echo T2* echo-
planar imaging sequence (TR= 2000 ms, TE = 40 ms, voxel size 4 x 4 x 4 mm3). Participants were instructed
to close their eyes during the acquisition. All the scans in this transversal study had the same image
sequence parameters, with the exception of the duration of the acquisition, 13 subjects where scan with
a duration of 6min, 180 volumes, while the other 23 were scan for 10min, 300 volumes (this was due to
the passage of time along the experiment). High resolution structural T1-weighted images were acquired
for anatomical reference. Images were acquired using a 3D spoiled gradient recalled (SPGR) acquisition
with a 1× 1× 1 mm3 voxel size (TR =8.1 ms, TE= 3.2 ms, flip angle =12.0°).
Image Analysis
Resting state images analysis was performed using in-house scripts and FMRIB's Software Libraries (FSL
v.4.1.9; Jenkinson et al., 2012; Smith et al., 2004). Preprocessing was done using, slice timing correction,
inhomogeneity correction, physiological noise and head motion correction, brain extraction, spatial
normalization, and high-band-pass temporal filtering (0.010.08 Hz). Subsequently, using rigid body
transformation, images were registered to the corresponding structural image, then using non-lineal
transformations images were normalized to the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) standard space.
Estimation of motion parameters was done for each volume within the fMRI dataset, and the root mean
squares (rms) of the displacement relative to the precedent volume were obtained (Satterthwaite et al.,
2013). Participants were to be removed if they had over 30 volumes that showed more than 0.25 mm of
rms, none of the participants were discarded. To minimize physiological noise, five principal components
of WM and CSF were regressed out, a method termed aCompCor (Behzadi et al., 2007; Chai et al., 2012).
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
To obtained resting state functional connectivity (FC), a seed analysis of lAi and rACC was performed.
Seeds were chosen based on their association to empathy and emotion regulation (Supplemental Material
Table S2), described in previous research (de Waal & Preston, 2017; Etkin et al., 2015; Fan et al., 2011;
Giuliani et al., 2011; Kunz et al., 2011; Uddin et al., 2017). Both seeds were selected from a NeuroSynth
automated meta-analysis executed during February, 2018 (Yarkoni et al., 2011), using the search terms:
Cognitive Emotional and Empathy. To verify that the different scan durations wouldn’t affect the results,
we first took the 23 subjects of 10 min of duration and did a pair t-test (Winkler et al., 2014) with a version
of the first 6min of their scans, comparing their FC of the seeds of interest; there were no differences in
connectivity between the two durations. Given this, we shortened the 23 subject’s scans from 10 min of
duration to the first 6 min and did with those all the FC analysis. For the construction of the functional
connectivity maps, FC was obtained by the Pearson correlation between the seed fMRI temporal series
and the temporal series of the different voxels in the whole brain. Afterwards a Fisher's z transformation
was applied. To compare the functional connectivity between the two groups, we first obtained the
average functional connectivity map of the two groups for each seed, this was done using one sample t-
test for each group. Consequently, we looked for differences between groups within the common network
(average map) using a two sample t-test. For the comparison between groups, even that sex as a variable
was controlled (9 women in each group), to control de effect of sex within groups, we used sex as a
covariate. The p values associated to the t-tests were estimated based on permutation analysis, and
significant clusters were identified using family-wise error (FWE) and a Threshold-Free Cluster
Enhancement (TFCE; Smith & Nichols, 2009).
RESULTS
Psychometric Tests
In the sample of 52 Psychotherapists and 90 non-psychotherapist, the psychotherapists showed higher
scores in the cognitive empathy scales of the IRI: Fantasy (FS) and Perspective Taking (PT), when compared
with non-psychotherapists. While in the affective empathy scales, Empathy Concern and Personal
Distress, there were no differences. Additionally, psychotherapists showed lower scores in the use of
Expressive Suppression (ES) measure by the ERQ, whereas non-psychotherapists showed a greater score
in the use of such emotional regulation strategy; there were no differences in the use of Reevaluation as
strategy (Table 1, Fig.1).
table.1 Groups Scores
_________________IRI________________
_____ERQ_____
Group and Sex
FS *
(m ± sd)
EC
(m ± sd)
PD
(m ± sd)
RE
(m ± sd)
ES*
(m ± sd)
Psichotherapists (n=90)
Women
17.6 ± 5
21.3 ± 21
9.2 ± 4
4.4 ± 1
1.7 ± 0.8
Men
18.2 ± 3
21.0 ± 3
8.8 ± 4
4.6 ± 1
1.8 ± 0.6
Total
17.9 ± 4
21.2 ± 3
9.0 ± 4
4.5 ± 1
1.8 ± 0.7
Non-psichotherapists (n=52)
Women
13.8 ± 5
23.3 ± 4
10.6 ± 4
4.4 ± 1
2.8 ± 1
Men
12.4 ± 5
20.4 ± 5
10.9 ± 5
4.5 ± 1
3.5 ± 1
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Total
13.0 ± 5
21.7 ± 4
10.8 ± 4
4.5 ± 1
3.2 ± 1
Interpersonal reactivity index (IRI) scales: PT=Perspective Taking, FS=Fantasy, EC=Empathy Concern,
PD=Personal Distress. Emotional regulation questionnaire (ERQ) scales: RE=Reevaluation, ES=Expressive
Suppression. *Constructs that showed statistical significant differences (FDR-corrected).
Since the psychotherapists group outperformed in Perspective Taking, Fantasy, and also uses less
Expressive Suppression as an emotional regulation strategy, we tested if those differences were also
portrayed in the relations between the different test scales, within each group. The psychotherapists
group showed a negative correlation between Perspective Taking (PT) and Personal Distress (PD) (Fig.2).
Whereas for the non-psychotherapists group, Perspective Taking was positively correlated with Fantasy
and Empathic Concern, and these last, Fantasy-Empathic Concern, were also related positively between
them. Furthermore, Expressive Suppression which was higher in non-psychotherapist showed a negative
correlation with Empathic Concern in this group.
Sex Differences
There were no sex differences in the psychotherapists group, the sex differences were only present in the
non-psychotherapists. These differences were in the scales of Empathy Concern and Expressive
Suppression (Table 2). Where woman from the non-psychotherapists group showed higher Empathy
Concern and lesser use of Expressive Suppression, in respect to non-psychotherapists men. Any influence
of sex in the differences presented between the two groups (NP and P) was discarded by a post-hoc
analysis (Fig.3).
Table 2. Group and sex differences, ANOVA results.
Construct
Group difference
Sex difference
Group-Sex Interaction*
Expressive Suppression
p < 0.001
p = 0.009
-
Empathic Concern
-
p = 0.004
-
Fantasy
p < 0.001
-
-
Perspective Taking
p < 0.001
-
-
rsfMRI
The seed based FC analysis showed differences when contrasting psychotherapists and non-
psychotherapists (Table 3, Fig.4). Psychotherapists showed greater connectivity between the left anterior
insula (lAi), associated with the empathy core network, and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC).
Conversely, psychotherapists showed lesser connectivity between the rostral anterior cingulate cortex
(rACC), associated with emotional regulation and expressive suppression, and the orbito prefrontal frontal
cortex (oPFC); in respect to non-therapists (Fig. 4, Table 3).
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Table 3. FC differences
MNI Coordinates1
Seed
FC diff. areas2
abbr
Cluster
No. Voxels
1-p-valor3
x
y
z
lAi
Dorsomedial prefrontaal cortex
dmPFC
2
2
0.97
-10
22
28
dmPFC
1
0.96
-6
10
40
rACC
Orbito prefontal cortex
oPFC
3
45
0.981
22
18
-20
oPFC
1
0.951
14
42
-20
sgACC
1
0.952
6
30
-8
1Peak with the maximum p-value, 2Brain areas that which FC with the seed showed differences, 3All the p-values are
FEW corrected.
FC and cognitive empathy
The psychotherapists of the rsfMRI study showed the same psychometric differences when compare with
the non-psychotherapists sub-group, shown in the bigger sample (Supplemental Material, Fig.S1). The
psychotherapists, who outperformed in Perspective Taking as a cognitive empathy measure by the IRI,
showed a negative correlation between Perspective Taking and their FC of the lAi seed with the dmPFC
(lAi-dmPFC), and the rACC seed with the oPFC (rACC-oPFC) (Fig.5).
DISCUSSION
The empathic response, as an umbrella construct, can be regulated by practice or training. In this study,
psychotherapists when compared to non-psychotherapists, showed greater scores in Fantasy (FS) and
Perspective Taking (PT), both are cognitive-empathy constructs, that refer, in layman’s terms, “to put
yourself in the other’s shoes” (Shamay-Tsoory, 2011). These differences might be related to their
professional practice, psychotherapists have to constantly modulated their perspective to understand
more accurate the other’s” viewpoint (Ickes, 2016; Lamm et al., 2007; Norcross, John C & Lambert,
Michael J, 2019; Rogers, 1992). Psychotherapists also showed less use of Expressive Suppression, which is
an emotion regulation strategy that inhibits emotional responding behaviors; this inhibition requires
greater consumption of cognitive resources, hindering social performance and generating discomfort to
others, as a result, it lessens the empathic response, thus, psychotherapists try to avoid the use of such
strategy (Butler et al., 2003; Gross & John, 2003; Norcross, John C & Lambert, Michael J, 2019). It could
be inferred that psychotherapists implement other strategies that facilitate more their perspective taking.
The high perspective taking showed by the psychotherapist was related to low personal distress or less
personal discomfort in an emotional social setting, which relates to social dysfunction and is negative
associated to the other IRI scales. Thus, in the psychotherapists group, perspective taking it´s related to
the way they emotionally appreciate their social setting (M. H. Davis, 1983); this relation was only present
in psychotherapists. The non-psychotherapists showed construct associations that were expected by
previous research (M. H. Davis, 1983; Lockwood et al., 2014); due to their high cognitive-empathy and
lower use of expressive suppression, psychotherapists showed only a similar non-significant tendency.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Similarly, the expected sex differences were only present in the non-psychotherapists. As has been
reported, women tend to have more Empathic Concern, a construct of affective-empathy, and also tend
to express more their emotions (Chrysikou & Thompson, 2016; Flynn et al., 2010). In the use of expressive
suppression, men from the psychotherapists group showed lower scores of expressive suppression when
compare with the non-psychotherapists, regardless of sex. Given that is natural to men to use expressive
suppression as strategy, the fact that men psychotherapists use this strategy less than the women from
the non-psychotherapists group, suggests that the differences showed by the psychotherapists (men and
women) could be owed to a specialization from their training and practice, which involves a more
congruent emotional expression for a more accurate empathic response.
Specialization from training and practice, has been related to changes in FC. In our study psychotherapists
showed greater FC between lAi and dmPFC, this could suggest a greater top-down processing. The lAi
belongs to the empathy core network, which is always active when we represent the affective state of the
other (Engen & Singer, 2013), it also has been related to the appreciation and integration of external
and internal stimuli to process empathy related states (Uddin et al., 2017). On the other hand, the dmPFC
has been associated with executive control, emotion regulation success (Etkin et al., 2015; Kohn et al.,
2014; Senholzi & Kubota, 2016) and cognitive empathy (Eres et al., 2015). This association between dmPFC
and lAi, suggests a greater regulatory control of the empathic response. We could infer, that in the
constant practice of regulating the empathic response dmPFC and lAi interact to exert such regulatory
control. lAi-dmPFC connectivity related negatively with perspective taking. This inverse relation could be
due to the diverse nature of practice-related effects on FC (Kelly & Garavan, 2005), sometimes, once
strengthen the connectivity of certain areas, a refinement of such process will occur, resulting in a
diminish FC. Thus, within the psychotherapist group, the lesser the connectivity of lAi-dmPFC the higher
their perspective taking.
The lesser FC between rACC and oPFC could support the assumption of a greater top down processing.
The rACC has been associated with emotional conflict resolution, specifically with implicit-autonomic
regulation which is a more rapid emotion regulation, possibly related to experience-dependent alteration
of the value of emotion (Etkin et al., 2015). Similarly, research has shown that the rACC codifies personal
traits and stereotypes (Delplanque et al., 2019; Heleven & Overwalle, 2019); this characteristic reinforces
the notion that the rACC is involve in imminent emotion resolution; stereotypes serve us to promptly react
and resolve emotional conflicts, allowing us to make rapid judgments based on known constructs. In turn,
the oPFC has been related with impulsive decision making (Hinvest et al., 2011) and has been associated
with implicit emotion regulation and motivational reward towards in-group preference (Mauss et al.,
2007; Senholzi & Kubota, 2016). Although implicit emotion regulation serves us to achieve an imminent
resolution, it could also implied that our resolution will be embedded with our own prejudice; the
inhibition of such type of regulation, could decrease prejudice and increase perspective taking. Thus,
lesser interaction between rACC and oPFC could suggest the inhibition of hastily resolving emotional
conflict in the therapy environment; this hypothesis, might be supported by the negative relation between
the FC of rACC-oPFC and higher perspective taking in psychotherapists.
Given that psychotherapists had training and practice in regulating their empathic response, it is possible
to think that this factors are associated to their FC of empathy-regulation related networks, resulting in
the differences found in our study. Furthermore, the correlation between the scores of PT and the
functional associations, could indicate that these networks participate in the regulation of the
psychotherapists own perspective taking to get a more accurate understanding of the “other’s” frame of
reference. Although the results suggest that training and practice could be influencing these differences,
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
we cannot assert that such differences were present before the psychotherapists began their training,
future research could shed light to these temporality aspects.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Víctor Enrique Olalde Mathieu is a doctoral student from “Programa de Doctorado en Ciencias
Biomédicas”, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and has recived CONACyT fellowship
no. 330989 (No.CVU: 619655). This work was supported by grants from DGAPA-PAPIIT UNAM grant
IN203216 (FAB) and CONACyT grant CB255462 (FAB). We thank Leonor Casanova Rico, Leopoldo
González-Santos, Ma. de Lourdes Lara Ayala, Juan J. Ortiz and Erick H. Pasaye for their technical support.
M.C. Jeziorski for editing of the manuscript. The authors thankfully acknowledge the imaging resources
and support provided by the “Laboratorio Nacional de Imagenología por Resonancia Magnética”,
CONACyT network of national laboratories.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
ETHICAL STANDARDS
The authors assert that all procedures comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and
institutional committees on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised
in 2008. The research protocol was revised and accepted by the Bioethics Committee of the Neurobiology
Institute, UNAM.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
Victor E. Olalde-Mathieu Fernando A. Barrios and Sarael Alcauter developed the study concept. All
authors contributed to the study design. Testing and data collection were performed by Victor E. Olalde-
Mathieu, Fernando A. Barrios, Sarael Alcauter and Federica Sassi. Data analysis and interpretation was
performed by: Victor E. Olalde-Mathieu, Roberto E. Mercadillo, Azalea Reyes-Aguilar and Sarael
Alcauter. Under the supervision of Fernando Barrios and Sarael Alcauter, Victor E. Olalde-Mathieu
drafted the manuscript. Azalea Reyes-Aguilar, Roberto E. Mercadillo and Federica Sassi provided critical
revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
REFERENCES
Bagby, R. M., Parker, J. D. A., & Taylor, G. J. (1994). The twenty-item Toronto Alexithymia scaleI. Item
selection and cross-validation of the factor structure. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 38(1),
2332. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-3999(94)90005-1
Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J., & Erbaugh, J. (1961). An Inventory for Measuring
Depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4(6), 561571.
https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710120031004
Behzadi, Y., Restom, K., Liau, J., & Liu, T. T. (2007). A component based noise correction method
(CompCor) for BOLD and perfusion based fMRI. NeuroImage, 37(1), 90101.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.04.042
Butler, E. A., Egloff, B., Wlhelm, F. H., Smith, N. C., Erickson, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2003). The social
consequences of expressive suppression. Emotion, 3(1), 4867. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-
3542.3.1.48
Chai, X. J., Castañón, A. N., Öngür, D., & Whitfield-Gabrieli, S. (2012). Anticorrelations in resting state
networks without global signal regression. NeuroImage, 59(2), 14201428.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.048
Chrysikou, E. G., & Thompson, W. J. (2016). Assessing Cognitive and Affective Empathy Through the
Interpersonal Reactivity Index: An Argument Against a Two-Factor Model. Assessment, 23(6),
769777. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191115599055
Cohen, N., Margulies, D. S., Ashkenazi, S., Schaefer, A., Taubert, M., Henik, A., Villringer, A., & Okon-
Singer, H. (2016). Using executive control training to suppress amygdala reactivity to aversive
information. NeuroImage, 125, 10221031. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.10.069
Davis, M. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of
Selected Documents in Psychology, 10(85).
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional
approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 113126.
https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.44.1.113
de Waal, F. B. M., & Preston, S. D. (2017). Mammalian empathy: behavioural manifestations and neural
basis. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18(8), 498509. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2017.72
Decety, J. (2011). Dissecting the Neural Mechanisms Mediating Empathy. Emotion Review, 3(1), 92108.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073910374662
Delplanque, J., Heleven, E., & Van Overwalle, F. (2019). Neural representations of Groups and
Stereotypes using fMRI repetition suppression. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 111.
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39859-y
Engen, H. G., & Singer, T. (2013). Empathy circuits. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 23(2), 275282.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2012.11.003
Eres, R., Decety, J., Louis, W. R., & Molenberghs, P. (2015). Individual differences in local gray matter
density are associated with differences in affective and cognitive empathy. NeuroImage, 117,
305310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.05.038
Etkin, A., Büchel, C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The neural bases of emotion regulation. Nature Reviews
Neuroscience, 16(11), 693700. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn4044
Fan, Y., Duncan, N. W., de Greck, M., & Northoff, G. (2011). Is there a core neural network in empathy?
An fMRI based quantitative meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(3), 903
911. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.10.009
Flynn, J. J., Hollenstein, T., & Mackey, A. (2010). The effect of suppressing and not accepting emotions
on depressive symptoms: Is suppression different for men and women? Personality and
Individual Differences, 49(6), 582586. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.022
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Giuliani, N. R., Drabant, E. M., Bhatnagar, R., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Emotion regulation and brain
plasticity: Expressive suppression use predicts anterior insula volume. NeuroImage, 58(1), 10
15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.028
Goldin, P. R., McRae, K., Ramel, W., & Gross, J. J. (2008). The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation:
Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion. Biological Psychiatry, 63(6), 577586.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.05.031
Goldsmith, L. P., Lewis, S. W., Dunn, G., & Bentall, R. P. (2015). Psychological treatments for early
psychosis can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the therapeutic alliance: an instrumental
variable analysis. Psychological Medicine, 45(11), 23652373.
https://doi.org/10.1017/S003329171500032X
Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications
for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2),
348362. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.348
Guerra-Carrillo, B., Mackey, A. P., & Bunge, S. A. (2014). Resting-State fMRI A Window into Human Brain
Plasticity. The Neuroscientist, 1073858414524442. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858414524442
Heleven, E., & Overwalle, F. V. (2019). Neural representations of others in the medial prefrontal cortex
do not depend on our knowledge about them. Social Neuroscience, 14(3), 286299.
https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2018.1472139
Hinvest, N. S., Elliott, R., McKie, S., & Anderson, I. M. (2011). Neural correlates of choice behavior related
to impulsivity and venturesomeness. Neuropsychologia, 49(9), 23112320.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.023
Ickes, W. (2016). Empathic accuracy: Judging thoughts and feelings. In The social psychology of
perceiving others accurately (pp. 5270). Cambridge University Press.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316181959.003
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Jenkinson, M., Beckmann, C. F., Behrens, T. E. J., Woolrich, M. W., & Smith, S. M. (2012). FSL.
NeuroImage, 62(2), 782790. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.09.015
Kelly, A. M. C., & Garavan, H. (2005). Human Functional Neuroimaging of Brain Changes Associated with
Practice. Cerebral Cortex, 15(8), 10891102. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhi005
Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2013). Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated
Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training. Cerebral Cortex, 23(7), 15521561.
https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhs142
Kohn, N., Eickhoff, S. B., Scheller, M., Laird, A. R., Fox, P. T., & Habel, U. (2014). Neural network of
cognitive emotion regulation An ALE meta-analysis and MACM analysis. NeuroImage, 87,
345355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.11.001
Kunz, M., Chen, J.-I., Lautenbacher, S., Vachon-Presseau, E., & Rainville, P. (2011). Cerebral Regulation of
Facial Expressions of Pain. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(24), 87308738.
https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0217-11.2011
Lamm, C., Batson, C. D., & Decety, J. (2007). The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of
perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(1), 4258.
https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2007.19.1.42
Lockwood, P. L., Seara-Cardoso, A., & Viding, E. (2014). Emotion Regulation Moderates the Association
between Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. PLoS ONE, 9(5), e96555.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096555
Mauss, I. B., Bunge, S. A., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Automatic Emotion Regulation. Social and Personality
Psychology Compass, 1(1), 146167. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00005.x
Mercadillo, R. E., Alcauter, S., Fernández-Ruiz, J., & Barrios, F. A. (2015). Police culture influences the
brain function underlying compassion: A gender study. Social Neuroscience, 10(2), 135152.
https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2014.977402
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Norcross, John C, & Lambert, Michael J. (2019). Psychotherapy relationships that work: Volume 1:
Evidence-based therapist contributions (3 edition). Oxford University Press.
https://www.amazon.com/Psychotherapy-Relationships-that-Work-Evidence-Based-
ebook/dp/B07SKBTTD3/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Psychotherapy+Relationships+That+Work%2C+V
olume+1%3A+Evidence-Based+Therapist+Contributions&qid=1574302776&s=books&sr=1-1
Palomar-García, M.-Á., Zatorre, R. J., Ventura-Campos, N., Bueichekú, E., & Ávila, C. (2017). Modulation
of Functional Connectivity in AuditoryMotor Networks in Musicians Compared with
Nonmusicians. Cerebral Cortex, 27(5), 27682778. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhw120
Reyes-Aguilar, A., & Barrios, F. A. (2016). A Preliminary Study of Sex Differences in Emotional Experience.
Psychological Reports, 118(2), 337352. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294116633350
Rogers, C. R. (1992). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal
of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60(6), 827832. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-
006X.60.6.827
Satterthwaite, T. D., Elliott, M. A., Gerraty, R. T., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J., Calkins, M. E., Eickhoff, S. B.,
Hakonarson, H., Gur, R. C., Gur, R. E., & Wolf, D. H. (2013). An improved framework for
confound regression and filtering for control of motion artifact in the preprocessing of resting-
state functional connectivity data. NeuroImage, 64, 240256.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.08.052
Senholzi, K. B., & Kubota, J. T. (2016). The Neural Mechanisms of Prejudice Intervention. In J. R. Absher
& J. Cloutier (Eds.), Neuroimaging Personality, Social Cognition, and Character (pp. 337354).
Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800935-2.00018-X
Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2011). The Neural Bases for Empathy. The Neuroscientist, 17(1), 1824.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858410379268
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Singer, T., & Engert, V. (2019). It matters what you practice: differential training effects on subjective
experience, behavior, brain and body in the ReSource Project. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28,
151158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.12.005
Smith, S. M., Jenkinson, M., Woolrich, M. W., Beckmann, C. F., Behrens, T. E. J., Johansen-Berg, H.,
Bannister, P. R., De Luca, M., Drobnjak, I., Flitney, D. E., Niazy, R. K., Saunders, J., Vickers, J.,
Zhang, Y., De Stefano, N., Brady, J. M., & Matthews, P. M. (2004). Advances in functional and
structural MR image analysis and implementation as FSL. NeuroImage, 23, S208S219.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.07.051
Smith, S. M., & Nichols, T. E. (2009). Threshold-free cluster enhancement: Addressing problems of
smoothing, threshold dependence and localisation in cluster inference. NeuroImage, 44(1), 83
98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.03.061
Taylor, V. A., Daneault, V., Grant, J., Scavone, G., Breton, E., Roffe-Vidal, S., Courtemanche, J., Lavarenne,
A. S., Marrelec, G., Benali, H., & Beauregard, M. (2013). Impact of meditation training on the
default mode network during a restful state. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1),
414. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsr087
Teding van Berkhout, E., & Malouff, J. M. (2016). The efficacy of empathy training: A meta-analysis of
randomized controlled trials. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 3241.
https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000093
Tousignant, B., Eugène, F., & Jackson, P. L. (2017). A developmental perspective on the neural bases of
human empathy. Infant Behavior and Development, 48, 512.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.11.006
Uddin, L. Q., Nomi, J. S., Hebert-Seropian, B., Ghaziri, J., & Boucher, O. (2017). Structure and function of
the human insula. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology : Official Publication of the American
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Electroencephalographic Society, 34(4), 300306.
https://doi.org/10.1097/WNP.0000000000000377
Watson, J. C., Steckley, P. L., & McMullen, E. J. (2014). The role of empathy in promoting change.
Psychotherapy Research, 24(3), 286298. https://doi.org/10.1080/10503307.2013.802823
Winkler, A. M., Ridgway, G. R., Webster, M. A., Smith, S. M., & Nichols, T. E. (2014). Permutation
inference for the general linear model. NeuroImage, 92, 381397.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.01.060
Yarkoni, T., Poldrack, R. A., Nichols, T. E., Van Essen, D. C., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Large-scale automated
synthesis of human functional neuroimaging data. Nature Methods, 8(8), 665670.
https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.1635
Zaki, J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2012). The neuroscience of empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise. Nature
Neuroscience, 15(5), 675680. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3085
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Fig.1. Psychometric differences between psychotherapists and non-psychotherapists. Boxplots of the
differences between groups (FDR-corrected). In the cognitive empathy scales of the IRI, Fantasy and
Perspective Taking, and in the use of Expressive Suppression as a regulation strategy measure by de ERQ.
At the right of each boxplot, the density plots of each group are presented. In orange non-psychotherapists
(Np), in blue psychotherapists(P). In the y-axis, the scale of the test scores.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Fig.2. Correlations between constructs within each group. In the graph on the left the significant
correlation between PT and PD showed in the psychotherapist group. At the right the four significant
correlations showed in the non-psychotherapists group. All p-values are FDR-corrected. In orange non-
psychotherapists (Np), in blue psychotherapists(P). In the “x” and “y” axis, the scale of the test scores.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Fig.3. Sex differences post-hoc analysis. In the graph of the left the differences between sex in the Empathy
Concern Scale and in the graph of the right in the construct of Expressive Suppression. In red females (F), in
purple males (M). In the y-axis, the scale of the test scores.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Fig.4. Functional connectivity differences. (a) Seed left anterior insula (lAl) (red), grater connectivity with
dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) (red-yellow; 1-p-value > 0.95 FWE corrected). In purple, conjunction
mask of average FC maps for both groups. (b) rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) (blue), lesser
connectivity with orbito prefrontal cortex (oPFC) (blue-lightblue; 1-p-value > 0.95 FWE corrected). In pink,
conjunction mask of average FC maps for both groups.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Fig.5. Correlation between Functional connectivity (FC) and Perspective Taking scores. In the graph of
the left the correlation between Perspective Taking and the FC of the the left anterior insula with
dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (lAi-dmPFC). In the graph of the right the correlation between Perspective
Taking and the FC of rACC with orbito prefrontal cortex (rACC-oPFC). p-values are FDR-corrected. In
orange non-psychotherapists (Np), in blue psychotherapists(P). In the “x”, the scale of the test scores and
“y” axis the FC values.
.CC-BY-ND 4.0 International licensewas not certified by peer review) is the author/funder. It is made available under a The copyright holder for this preprint (whichthis version posted July 2, 2020. . https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.01.182998doi: bioRxiv preprint
Preprint
Full-text available
Empathic capacity has been shown to be correlated with brain structural variations. This study investigates how this is the case in a group of psychotherapists who have a constant demand to modulate their empathic response. Eighteen psychotherapists and eighteen healthy controls underwent 3 Tesla MRI scanning and completed empathy related psychometric assessments. Cortical thickness (CT) measures were estimated for each participant. We evaluated how these measures differed between groups, and if they were associated with individual empathy scores at a series of regions of interest. Our analysis shows that psychotherapists display a significantly greater CT at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC; p < 0.05, FDR corrected). Moreover, psychotherapists′ CT in this region is correlated with the tendency to feel empathically concerned for others (p < 0.01, FDR corrected). This finding is relevant because this dlPFC region participates importantly in emotion regulation and perspective taking processes. Thus, our findings support the idea that empathic capacity is reflected by brain structural variations, recruiting for the first time a sample of subjects for whom empathic responding is crucial in their jobs
Article
Full-text available
Categorizing people in groups and associating them with stereotypical behavior is an integral part of human social understanding and interaction. This study investigates where knowledge on social groups and their stereotypes is represented in the brain. We presented participants with two sentences describing a group member (e.g. the police officer) performing a behavior believed to be stereotypical of the group (e.g. makes an arrest, i.e. authoritative), and asked them to rate the degree to which the behavior was typical of the group. Our critical manipulation was the repetition of this information across the two sentences: Either both the group and the stereotype implied by the behavior was repeated, only the group was repeated, only the stereotype implied by the behavior, or neither. Results showed robust suppression of hemodynamic activation from the first to second sentence in the medial prefrontal cortex in response to the repetition of the stereotype implied in the behavior, but only when groups were different. This finding suggests that the neural representation of stereotypes is located in this area, and this is in line with similar repetition suppression research showing trait representation in this area. A suppression effect for the repetition of groups was observed in the posterior cingulate cortex, regardless of whether stereotypes were repeated or not. This finding suggests that the neural representation of groups is located in this area. Because this location is unexpected, we discuss several suggestions for future research to confirm this finding.
Article
Mindfulness interventions have gained much attraction, also due to their promise to improve health and wellbeing. However, not enough attention is devoted to the differentiation between various mental practice types. Here, we summarize findings from the ReSource Project, a 9-month longitudinal mental training study comparing practices focusing on (a) present-moment attention and interoception, (b) socio-emotional processes such as compassion and loving kindness and (c) meta-cognitive processes and perspective-taking on self and others. We find evidence for differential training effects of these practice types on all levels of observation, ranging from distinct phenomenological fingerprints and structural brain plasticity to selective improvements in social cognition, altruism and peripheral physiology, including the cortisol response to psychosocial stress. We argue for a more differentiated view on the concept of mindfulness and meditation.
Article
Earlier neuroimaging studies on social inferences applying repetition suppression indicated that psychological entities of persons are represented in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These representations were identified by suppression of activation in neural populations after repetition of the same persons, and are interpreted as abstract summary representations for the repeated social entity. However, an alternative explanation might be that suppression for persons does not reflect the representation of a person as such, but rather some degree of knowledge about this person. The current study contrasted these hypotheses by manipulating repetition not only of a person, but also of the knowledge about that person. If a high level of knowledge plays a role in person representation, suppression effects in the mPFC would be larger for well-known persons as opposed to less-known persons (e.g., close friends versus acquaintances). Contrary to this alternative hypothesis, but in line with the original interpretation, our results revealed only suppression for person repetition in the ventral mPFC irrespective of knowledge level, suggesting that both well-known and lesser-known persons are represented in this area. Suppression areas for well-known and lesser-known persons were, however, only partly overlapping and the area for less-known others extended towards the dorsal mPFC.
Article
Recent research on empathy in humans and other mammals seeks to dissociate emotional and cognitive empathy. These forms, however, remain interconnected in evolution, across species and at the level of neural mechanisms. New data have facilitated the development of empathy models such as the perception-action model (PAM) and mirror-neuron theories. According to the PAM, the emotional states of others are understood through personal, embodied representations that allow empathy and accuracy to increase based on the observer's past experiences. In this Review, we discuss the latest evidence from studies carried out across a wide range of species, including studies on yawn contagion, consolation, aid-giving and contagious physiological affect, and we summarize neuroscientific data on representations related to another's state.
Article
To facilitate a multidimensional approach to empathy the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) includes 4 subscales: Perspective-Taking (PT) Fantasy (FS) Empathic Concern (EC) and Personal Distress (PD). The aim of the present study was to establish the convergent and discriminant validity of these 4 subscales. Hypothesized relationships among the IRI subscales between the subscales and measures of other psychological constructs (social functioning self-esteem emotionality and sensitivity to others) and between the subscales and extant empathy measures were examined. Study subjects included 677 male and 667 female students enrolled in undergraduate psychology classes at the University of Texas. The IRI scales not only exhibited the predicted relationships among themselves but also were related in the expected manner to other measures. Higher PT scores were consistently associated with better social functioning and higher self-esteem; in contrast Fantasy scores were unrelated to these 2 characteristics. High EC scores were positively associated with shyness and anxiety but negatively linked to egotism. The most substantial relationships in the study involved the PD scale. PD scores were strongly linked with low self-esteem and poor interpersonal functioning as well as a constellation of vulnerability uncertainty and fearfulness. These findings support a multidimensional approach to empathy by providing evidence that the 4 qualities tapped by the IRI are indeed separate constructs each related in specific ways to other psychological measures.
Article
Correlation of spontaneous fluctuations at rest between anatomically distinct brain areas are proposed to reflect the profile of individual a priori cognitive biases, coded as synaptic efficacies in cortical networks. Here, we investigate functional connectivity at rest (rs-FC) in musicians and nonmusicians to test for differences in auditory, motor, and audiomotor connectivity. As expected, musicians had stronger rs-FC between the right auditory cortex (AC) and the right ventral premotor cortex than nonmusicians, and this stronger rs-FC was greater in musicians with more years of practice. We also found reduced rs-FC between the motor areas that control both hands in musicians compared with nonmusicians, which was more evident in the musicians whose instrument required bimanual coordination and as a function of hours of practice. Finally, we replicated previous morphometric data to show an increased volume in the right AC in musicians, which was greater in those with earlier musical training, and that this anatomic feature was in turn related to greater rs-FC between auditory and motor systems. These results show that functional coupling within the motor system and between motor and auditory areas is modulated as a function of musical training, suggesting a link between anatomic and functional brain features.
Article
Evolutionary approaches have proposed that women possess an advantage over men in emotional functioning to promote attachment for child-rearing. Likewise, sex differences have been reported in traits such as personality and empathy, traits that likely modulate emotional processing. In this preliminary study, sex differences in emotional processing were analyzed, including empathy as a social emotion and personality traits, as well as whether there exist relationships between those measures. Young volunteers (N = 105) indicated the emotional valence, activation, and dominance that they experience in situations categorized as emotionally positive, negative, or neutral. The results of comparison between sexes supported the approach that women showed more sensitivity to high activation and dominance for positive emotions and empathy, and men were more sensitive to negative situations. Correlation analysis showed only one positive relationship between scores of Self-transcendence, a subscale of Temperament and Character Inventory, with activation scores of neutral situations, but not with emotionally charged situations, perhaps because emotions are context-dependent processes while personality traits are considered context-independent descriptions of habits. These findings should be replicated to enrich knowledge about problems in emotional processing.
Chapter
Prejudice is a negative attitude toward a person based on their group membership. These typically unjustified evaluations affect a person's emotions and behavior, sometimes leading to discrimination. Our chapter focuses on the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to inform our understanding of prejudice expression and interventions. We first review the meaning of prejudice—how social scientists define and measure it as a psychological phenomenon. We then provide an overview of a neural network comprised of brain areas involved in emotion processing and regulation that neuroscientists have consistently implicated in prejudice. We conclude with an optimistic outlook. Despite the fact that neural regions are reliably associated with prejudice exhibition, successful interventions have been developed that shape race processing and attenuate prejudice.
Article
While empathy has been widely studied in philosophical and psychological literatures, recent advances in social neuroscience have shed light on the neural correlates of this complex interpersonal phenomenon. In this review, we provide an overview of brain imaging studies that have investigated the neural substrates of human empathy. Based on existing models of the functional architecture of empathy, we review evidence of the neural underpinnings of each main component, as well as their development from infancy. Although early precursors of affective sharing and self-other distinction appear to be present from birth, recent findings also suggest that even higher-order components of empathy such as perspective-taking and emotion regulation demonstrate signs of development during infancy. This merging of developmental and social neuroscience literature thus supports the view that ontogenic development of empathy is rooted in early infancy, well before the emergence of verbal abilities. With age, the refinement of top-down mechanisms may foster more appropriate empathic responses, thus promoting greater altruistic motivation and prosocial behaviors.
Article
The ability to regulate emotions is essential for adaptive behavior. This ability is suggested to be mediated by the connectivity between prefrontal brain regions and the amygdala. Yet, it is still unknown whether the ability to regulate emotions can be trained by using a non-emotional procedure, such as the recruitment of executive control (EC). Participants who were trained using a high-frequent executive control (EC) task (80% incongruent trials) showed reduced amygdala reactivity and behavioral interference of aversive pictures. These effects were observed only following multiple-session training and not following one training session. In addition, they were not observed for participants exposed to low-frequent EC training (20% incongruent trials). Resting-state functional connectivity analysis revealed a marginally significant interaction between training groups and change in the connectivity between the amygdala and the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Amygdala-IFG connectivity was significantly increased following the training only in the high-frequent EC training group. These findings are the first to show that non-emotional training can induce changes in amygdala reactivity to aversive information and alter amygdala-prefrontal connectivity.