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Shared and distinct functional networks for empathy and pain processing: a systematic review and meta-analysis of fMRI studies.


ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:Empathy for pain is a complex phenomenon incorporating sensory, cognitive and affective processes. Functional neuroimaging studies indicate a rich network of brain activations for empathic processing. However, previous research focused on core activations in bilateral anterior insula (AI) and anterior cingulate/anterior midcingulate cortex (ACC/aMCC) which are also typically present during nociceptive (pain) processing. Theoretical understanding of empathy would benefit from empirical investigation of shared and contrasting brain activations for empathic and nociceptive processing. METHOD:Thirty-nine empathy for observed pain studies (1112 participants; 527 foci) were selected by systematic review. Coordinate based meta-analysis (activation likelihood estimation) was performed and novel contrast analyses compared neurobiological processing of empathy with a comprehensive meta-analysis of 180 studies of nociceptive processing (Tanasescu et al., 2016). RESULTS:Conjunction analysis indicated overlapping activations for empathy and nociception in AI, aMCC, somatosensory and inferior frontal regions. Contrast analysis revealed increased likelihood of activation for empathy, relative to nociception, in bilateral supramarginal, inferior frontal and occipitotemporal regions. Nociception preferentially activated bilateral posterior insula, somatosensory cortex and aMCC. CONCLUSION:Our findings support the likelihood of shared and distinct neural networks for empathic, relative to nociceptive, processing. This offers succinct empirical support for recent tiered or modular theoretical accounts of empathy.

SUBMITTER: Fallon N 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC7511882 | BioStudies | 2020-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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