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Inter-individual differences in empathy are reflected in human brain structure
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-08, 14:32 authored by Michael J Banissy, Ryota Kanai, Vincent Walsh, Geraint Rees
Empathy is a multi-faceted concept consisting of our ability not only to share emotions but also to exert cognitive control and perspective taking in our interactions with others. Here we examined whether inter-individual variability in different components of empathy was related to differences in brain structure assessed using voxel-based morphometry. Following a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, participants completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Multiple regression was then used to assess the relationship between individual differences in grey matter volume and individual differences in empathy traits. We found that individual differences in affective empathic abilities oriented towards another person were negatively correlated with grey matter volume in the precuneus, inferior frontal gyrus, and anterior cingulate. Differences in self-oriented affective empathy were negatively correlated with grey matter volume of the somatosensory cortex, but positively correlated with volume in the insula; cognitive perspective taking abilities were positively correlated with grey matter volume of the anterior cingulate; and the ability to empathise with fictional characters was positively related to grey matter changes in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings are discussed in relation to neurocognitive models of empathy.
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