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Soc Neurosci. 2016;11(2):109-22. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2015.1049709. Epub 2015 Jun 2.

Helping behavior induced by empathic concern attenuates anterior cingulate activation in response to others' distress.

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a Division of Cerebral Integration, Department of Cerebral Research , National Institute for Physiological Sciences , Okazaki , Japan.
b Graduate School of Human Health Sciences , Tokyo Metropolitan University , Tokyo , Japan.
c School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine , Gunma University , Maebashi , Japan.
d Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, Graduate School of Medical Sciences , Kyushu University , Fukuoka , Japan.
e Department of Physiological Sciences , SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) , Hayama , Japan.
f Department of Social and Human Environment, Graduate School of Environmental Studies , Nagoya University , Nagoya , Japan.


Helping behavior is motivated by empathic concern for others in distress. Although empathic concern is pervasive in daily life, its neural mechanisms remain unclear. Empathic concern involves the suppression of the emotional response to others' distress, which occurs when individuals distance themselves emotionally from the distressed individual. We hypothesized that helping behavior induced by empathic concern, accompanied by perspective-taking, would attenuate the neural activation representing aversive feelings. We also predicted reward system activation due to the positive feeling resulting from helping behavior. Participant underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while playing a virtual ball-toss game. In some blocks ("concern condition"), one player ("isolated player") did not receive ball-tosses from other players. In this condition, participants increased ball-tosses to the isolated player (helping behavior). Participants then evaluated the improved enjoyment of the isolated player resulting from their helping behavior. Anterior cingulate activation during the concern condition was attenuated by the evaluation of the effect of helping behavior. The right temporoparietal junction, which is involved in perspective-taking and the dorsal striatum, part of the reward system, were also activated during the concern condition. These results suggest that humans can attenuate affective arousal by anticipating the positive outcome of empathic concern through perspective-taking.


Affective arousal attenuation; Anterior cingulate cortex; Empathic concern; Empathic joy; Helping behavior; Perspective taking

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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