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Neuropsychology. 2015 May;29(3):463-72. doi: 10.1037/neu0000155. Epub 2014 Nov 17.

Functional and structural indices of empathy: Evidence for self-orientation as a neuropsychological foundation of empathy.

Author information

1
Department of Health Psychology.
2
Department of Religious Studies.
3
Department of Psychological Sciences.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To evaluate a model that hypothesizes that empathy is associated with decreased right parietal lobe (RPL)-related self-orientation (i.e., increased selflessness), which allows individuals to more easily empathize with others.

METHODS:

PARTICIPANTS:

Thirty one individuals with documented neuroradiological abnormalities due to traumatic brain injury (TBI) referred for clinical evaluations.

MEASURES:

Cerebral integrity was measured with both functional (i.e., neuropsychological tests) and structural indices (i.e., MRI). Participants were administered comprehensive neuropsychological tests associated with general bilateral frontal, temporal, and parietal lobe functioning, a self-report measure of empathy (i.e., Penner's Prosocial Personality Battery), and an objective measure of empathy (i.e., Prisoner's Dilemma). Twenty participants also completed structural MRI analysis of the bilateral frontal, temporal, parietal, and insular cortices measured in terms of volume.

RESULTS:

Pearson correlations indicated that empathy was related to increased neuropsychological indices of RPL and frontal lobe (primarily left frontal) functioning. The only MRI indices associated with empathy were the bilateral insula. Neither functional nor structural cerebral indices were significantly related to objective measures of empathy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Contrary to hypotheses, empathy appears to be associated with increased RPL functioning. It is suggested that to incorporate the experiences of others into the experience of the self (i.e., to be empathetic), one must have an intact sense of the self.

PMID:
25401998
DOI:
10.1037/neu0000155
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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