While it is well established that individuals with psychopathy have a marked deficit in affective arousal, emotional empathy, and caring for the well-being of others, the extent to which perspective taking can elicit an emotional response has not yet been studied despite its potential application in rehabilitation. In healthy individuals, affective perspective taking has proven to be an effective means to elicit empathy and concern for others. To examine neural responses in individuals who vary in psychopathy during affective perspective taking, (...) 121 incarcerated males, classified as high (n = 37; Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, PCL-R ≥ 30), intermediate (n = 44; PCL-R between 21-29), and low (n = 40; PCL-R ≤ 20) psychopaths, were scanned while viewing stimuli depicting bodily injuries and adopting an imagine-self and an imagine-other perspective. During the imagine-self perspective, participants with high psychopathy showed a typical response within the network involved in empathy for pain, including the anterior insula, anterior midcingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, inferior frontal gyrus, somatosensory cortex, and right amygdala. Conversely, during the imagine-other perspective, psychopaths exhibited an atypical pattern of brain activation and effective connectivity seeded in the anterior insula and amygdala with the orbitofrontal cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The response in the amygdala and insula was inversely correlated with PCL-R factor 1 (interpersonal/affective) during the imagine-other perspective. In high psychopaths, scores on PCL-R Factor 1 predicted the neural response in ventral striatum when imagining others in pain. These patterns of brain activation and effective connectivity associated with differential perspective-taking provide a better understanding of empathy dysfunction in psychopathy, and have the potential to inform intervention programs for this complex clinical problem. (shrink)
Deficits in social cognition are an evident clinical feature of the Asperger syndrome (AS). Although many daily life problems of adults with AS are related to social cognition impairments, few studies have conducted comprehensive research in this area. The current study examined multiple domains of social cognition in adults with AS assessing the executive functions (EF) and exploring the intra and inter-individual variability. Fifteen adults diagnosed with AS and 15 matched healthy controls completed a battery of social cognition tasks. This (...) battery included measures of emotion recognition, theory of mind, empathy, moral judgment, social norms knowledge and self-monitoring behavior in social settings. We controlled for the effect of EF and explored the individual variability. The results indicated that adults with AS had a fundamental deficit in several domains of social cognition. We also found high variability in the social cognition tasks. In these tasks, AS participants obtained mostly subnormal performance. Executive functions did not seem to play a major role in the social cognition impairments. Our results suggest that adults with AS present a pattern of social cognition deficits characterized by the decreased ability to implicitly encode and integrate contextual information in order to access to the social meaning. Nevertheless, when social information is explicitly presented or the situation can be navigated with abstract rules, performance is improved. Our findings have implications for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with AS as well as for the neurocognitive models of this syndrome. (shrink)
Empathy is thought to play a key role in motivating prosocial behavior, guiding our preferences and behavioral responses, and providing the affective and motivational base for moral development. While these abilities have traditionally been examined using behavioral methods, recent work in evolutionary biology, developmental and cognitive neuroscience has begun to shed light on the neural circuitry that instantiate them. The purpose of this article is to critically examine the current knowledge in the field of affective neuroscience and provide an integrative (...) and comprehensive view of the computational mechanisms that underlie empathy. This framework is of general interest and relevance for theory as well as for assisting future research in the domains of affective developmental neuroscience and psychopathology. (shrink)
Empathy is a complex social cognitive construct. Its scientific investigation requires both a careful analysis of the concepts used as well as a multilevel integrative analysis, including studies with atypical populations, not just neuroimaging data in healthy participants. Further, the fact that the experience of empathy involves both intrapersonal and interpersonal emotional states poses a challenge to neuroscientific investigations.
Though traditional accounts of moral development focus on the development of rational and deliberate thinking, recent work in developmental affective neuroscience suggests that moral cognition is tightly related to affective and emotional processing. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show age-related changes in response to empathy-eliciting stimuli, with a gradual shift from the monitoring of somatovisceral responses in young children mediated by the amygdala, insula and medial aspect of the orbitofrontal cortex, to the executive control and evaluation of emotion processing implemented (...) by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in older participants. These data indicate that the development of moral reasoning involves the increasing integration of empathic emotion-related somatovisceral responses with more complex social-reasoning abilities. (shrink)
This paper selectively reviews the neurophysiological evidence for shared neural circuits (supposedly implemented by mirror neurons) as the mechanism underlying empathy. I will argue that while the mirror neuron system plays a role in motor resonance, it is not possible to conclude that this system is critically involved in emotion recognition, and there is little evidence for its role in empathy and sympathy. In addition, there is modest support from neurological observations that lesion of the regions involved in the mirror (...) neuron system leads to dysfunction in empathy, whereas damage of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is associated with such impairment. To significantly advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying empathy, research needs finer conceptualization, better designed paradigms, and integration with knowledge from lesion studies. (shrink)
There is converging evidence from developmental and cognitive psychology, as well as from neuroscience, to suggest that the self is both special and social, and that self-other interaction is the driving force behind self-development. We review experimental findings which demonstrate that human infants are motivated for social interactions and suggest that the development of an awareness of other minds is rooted in the implicit notion that others are like the self. We then marshal evidence from functional neuroimaging explorations of the (...) neurophysiological substrate of shared representations between the self and others, using various ecological paradigms such as mentally representing one's own actions versus others' actions, watching the actions executed by others, imitating the others' actions versus being imitated by others. We suggest that within this shared neural network the inferior parietal cortex and the prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere play a special role in the essential ability to distinguish the self from others, and in the way the self represents the other. Interestingly, the right hemisphere develops its functions earlier than the left. (shrink)
In recent years, neurophysiological evidence has accumulated in favor of a common coding between perception and execution of action. We review findings from recent neuroimaging experiments in the action domain with three complementary perspectives: perception of action, covert action triggered by perception, and reproduction of perceived action (imitation). All studies point to the parietal cortex as a key region for body movement representation, both observed and performed.
To explore the neural mechanisms engaged by the perception of action with the intent to imitate, positron emission tomographic activation studies were performed in healthy human subjects. We discuss the results in light of the framework proposed by Byrne & Russon, especially the distinction between mechanisms subserving action-level and program-level imitation.