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Neuropsychologia. 2013 May;51(6):1103-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.02.020. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Cognitive empathy and motor activity during observed actions.

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The University of Queensland, School of Psychology, QLD 4072, Australia.


Whether empathy depends on activation of the mirror neuron system is controversial. This study tested the relationship between cognitive empathy and motor activation during action observation through the sensorimotor system. EEG activity was recorded over the motor area while participants observed and then performed a task demonstrated by a model. Analyses revealed significant suppression in mu/alpha (8-12Hz) and beta (18-22Hz) EEG bands, indicative of sensorimotor activity, during both observed and executed actions. Crucially, participants rating higher in perspective taking as a measure of trait cognitive empathy showed significantly less beta suppression when observing actions. The direction of this relationship, contrary to studies involving induced emotional empathy, may reflect individual differences in mentalizing and mirroring mechanisms to understand others' actions. Implications of these findings for the hypothesised empathy-mirror neuron system link are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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