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Neuroimage. 2013 Aug 15;77:222-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.04.004. Epub 2013 Apr 8.

White matter structures associated with empathizing and systemizing in young adults.

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Smart Ageing International Research Center, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan.


Empathizing is defined as the drive to identify the mental states of others in order to predict their behavior and respond with an appropriate emotion. Systemizing is defined as the drive to analyze a system in terms of the rules that govern it to predict its behavior. We undertook voxel-by-voxel investigations of regional white matter volume (rWMV) and fractional anisotropy (FA) of diffusion tensor imaging to discover the WM structural correlates of empathizing, systemizing, and their difference (D score: systemizing-empathizing). Whole brain analyses of covariance revealed that across both sexes, the D score was negatively correlated with rWMV in the WM area in the bilateral temporal lobe, near the right inferior frontal gyrus, near the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, and near the posterior cingulate cortex and positively correlated with FA in an area involving the superior longitudinal fasciculus. Post-hoc analyses revealed that these associations were generally formed by both the correlation between WM structures and empathizing as well as the opposite correlation between WM structures and systemizing. A significant effect of interaction between sex and the D score on rWMV, which was mainly observed because of a positive correlation between rWMV and empathizing in females and a negative correlation between rWMV and systemizing in females, was found in an area close to the right inferior parietal lobule and temporoparietal junction. Our results suggest that WM structures involving the default mode network and the mirror neuron system support empathizing, and that a WM structure relating to the external attention system supports systemizing. Further, our results revealed an overlap between positive/negative WM structural correlates of empathizing and negative/positive WM structural correlates of systemizing despite little correlation between empathizing and systemizing, which supports the previously held idea that there is a trade-off between empathizing and systemizing in the brain.

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