Is it possible to share a pain that you observe in another but have never actually experienced yourself? A new study uses brain-imaging to try and answer this question and the research, published in Neuron, may provide insight into the brain mechanisms involved in empathy.
Brain-imaging studies have shown similar patterns of brain activity when subjects feel their own emotions or observe the same emotions in others. It has been suggested that a person who has never experienced a specific feeling would have a difficult time directly empathizing with a person through a "mirror matching" mechanism that requires previous experience and would instead have to rely on a higher inferential processes called "perspective taking."
"Patients with congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) offer a unique opportunity to test this model of empathy by exploring how the lack of self-pain representation might influence the perception of others' pain," explains lead author Dr. Nicolas Danziger from the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology and Pain Center at the Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, France.
Dr. Danziger and colleagues had previously shown that CIP patients underestimated the pain of others when emotional cues were lacking and, in contrast with control subjects, the ability to fully acknowledge others' pain depended on a capacity for empathy. In this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare brain activation patterns in CIP patients and controls who were asked to imagine the feelings of a person in a photo that showed body parts in painful situations or facial expressions of pain.
CIP patients showed decreased fMRI activation of visual regions, a result indicative of their reduced emotional arousal to the view of others' pain. On the other hand, in the CIP patients but not the controls, the capacity for empathy strongly predicted activation of key midline brain structures involved in processes linked to inferring the emotional states of others.
These results suggest that in the absence of functional resonance mechanisms shaped by personal pain experiences, CIP patients might rely crucially on their empathetic abilities to imagine the pain of others, with activation of midline brain structures being the neural signature of this cognitive-emotional process.
"Our findings underline the major role of midline structures in emotional perspective taking and in the ability to understand someone else's feelings despite the lack of any previous personal experience of it—an empathetic challenge frequently raised during human social interactions," concludes Dr. Danziger.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Is The X(5568) A True Resonance ?
- How We Predict Climate For Decades - Yet Can't Forecast Weather For Ten Days - Chaos Patterned With Order
- The Five Stages Of A Dying Theory
- Neanderthals: Not So Dumb
- Time, Wittgenstein And Language Scaffolding
- Should Pregnant Women Be Concerned About BPA?
- Russian scientists increase DVD storage capacity million times
- "As the great Andrew Martin once said One is glad to be of service. :-)But seriously, this..."
- "Tracy, no there is nothing to be scared of. I get some people who just ask me to reassure them..."
- "Is there anything to be scared of then Mr walker coz these who are saying its real are saying we..."
- "Thanks that's useful, I did a Florida before and after a 3 meter sea level rise due to melting..."
- "Tracy, nobody has pinpointed an orbit for it. When they say that they usually mean that they have..."
- At High Altitude with Buzz Aldrin
- Another Day, Another Children's Homeopathic Product Recalled
- Annoying Studies’ Series: Newborn Weight Gain (Again!)
- Five PM? Time for Breakfast!
- Include Aerobic Fitness in Physical Exams, Heart Association Recommends
- Female Vervet Monkeys Assault Males that Do Not Participate in Fights