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Soc Neurosci. 2007;2(3-4):254-75. doi: 10.1080/17470910701376902.

The neural substrates of cognitive empathy.

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Neuroscientific research has consistently found that the perception of an affective state in another activates the observer's own neural substrates for the corresponding state, which is likely the neural mechanism for "true empathy." However, to date there has not been a brain-imaging investigation of so-called "cognitive empathy", whereby one "actively projects oneself into the shoes of another person," imagining someone's personal, emotional experience as if it were one's own. In order to investigate this process, we conducted a combined psychophysiology and PET and study in which participants imagined: (1) a personal experience of fear or anger from their own past; (2) an equivalent experience from another person as if it were happening to them; and (3) a nonemotional experience from their own past. When participants could relate to the scenario of the other, they produced patterns of psychophysiological and neuroimaging activation equivalent to those of personal emotional imagery, but when they could not relate to the other's story, differences emerged on all measures, e.g., decreased psychophysiological responses and recruitment of a region between the inferior temporal and fusiform gyri. The substrates of cognitive empathy overlap with those of personal feeling states to the extent that one can relate to the state and situation of the other.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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