Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others Presenter: Cindy Mei Tania Singer, Ben Seymour, John P. O’Doherty, Klaas E. Stephan, Raymond J. Dolan and Chris D. Frith Introduction Empathy allows us to share in the emotions, pain and sensations of others But is this mental or physiological? If you hurt, I hurt too… Perceived pain in others activates the same brain regions that detect pain in yourself! anterior insula/fronto-insular cortex (AI/FI) anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) But do social relations matter? Does fairness = more empathy? Unfairness = desire for punishment? Hypothesis Pain-related empathic responses in AI/FI and ACC will be observed when watching a fair person in pain, but be reduced/absent when watching an unfair person in pain Also, seeing an unfair person in pain will activate the reward pathways in the brain (punishment / revenge) Method 16 men and 16 women 4 confederates (professional actors, 2 male and 2 female) Prisoner’s Dilemma game Used to create ―fair‖ or ―unfair‖ responses by the confederates fMRI scans to determine activation of: Empathic systems (AI/FI and ACC) Reward Pathway—‖revenge‖ (nucleus accumbens (NA)) Experimental Task No Pain or Painful shocks Applied randomly to all 3 participants Scan to see activation of AI/FI/ACC and NA •Afterwards: questionnaires on Standard Empathy Scale, how much they liked the confederates and how much they wanted revenge Results - Empathy ACC FI Men & Women – increased empathy for pain in fair players Men – decreased empathy for pain in unfair players Results - Punishment Men only – increased desire for revenge = increased activation of NA Discussion Provides neurobiological evidence on how fairness affects social interactions between people Cooperation = increased empathy Selfishness = decreases empathy and increases desire for punishment (in males) Like working with fair opponents Want to punish unfair opponents Could indicate that men have a larger role in the desire to maintain justice and punishment in society Strengths and Limitations Strengths Used male and female subjects Tested for both empathy and no-empathy (and punishment) Limitations Tested only empathy for pain, what about for emotions like happiness or sadness? Further research? Investigate more in the gender specificity of the ―punishment‖ pathway Psychological or financial punishment more appealing to women? Empathy for known players who are fair or unfair? Questions?
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