Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Feeling empathy for a loved-one: empathy for pain activates pain-sensitive regions of the brain, says UCL study

19.02.2004


Knowing our partner is in pain automatically triggers affective pain processing regions of our brains, according to new research by University College London (UCL) scientists. The study, published in the 20th February edition of the journal Science, asked whether empathizing with the pain of others involves the re-activation of the entire pain network underlying the processing of pain in our selves. The results suggest that empathy for pain of others only involves the affective, but not sensory component of our pain experience.

The team, at UCL’s Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, set out to find out what happens to our brains when we empathise with the feelings of others, how the brain understands how something feels for another human, and whether such empathetic responses are triggered rather automatically by the mere perception of someone else being in pain.

The UCL team investigated pain-related empathy in 16 couples, under an assumption that couples are likely to feel empathy for each other. Brain activity in the woman was assessed while painful stimulation was applied to her or to her partner’s right hand through an electrode attached to the back of the hand. Both hands were placed on a tilted board allowing the subject, with help of a mirror system, to see both hands. Behind this board was a large screen upon which flashes of different colours were presented. The colours indicated whether to expect painful or non painful stimulation. This procedure enabled to measure pain-related brain activation when pain was applied to the scanned subject (the ‘pain matrix’) as well as to her partner (empathy for pain).



The team found that not the entire ‘pain matrix’ was activated when empathizing with the pain of others. Some sensory regions of your brain code for the location and the objective intensity of the painful stimulus, while other brain regions process how unpleasant you subjectively felt the pain to be. For instance, someone involved in a car accident will hardly feel pain even if they are severly injured, while if you expect to be infected by a contagious desease, every slight scratch will feel like a burning pain.

The researchers observed that empathy for pain involved the context-dependent affective aspects of pain but not the sensory-discriminative aspects of pain. It involves the same brain regions found to be involved when you anticipate getting pain. You get aroused and emotional but you do not feel the actual pain on your hand.

“The results suggest that we use emotional representations reflecting our own subjective feeling states to understand the feelings of others. Probably, our ability to empathize has evolved from a system for representing our own internal bodily states”, says author Dr Tania Singer.

“The significance of this research is that, for the first time, brain imagers were able to study empathic processes ‘in vivo’ in the usually unnatural scanning environment and show that emotional and not cognitive processess are triggered by the mere perception of a symbol indicating that your loved-one is in pain.

“Our human capacity to ‘tune in’ to others when exposed to their feelings may explain why we do not always behave selfishly in human interactions but instead engage in altruistic, helping behaviour, suggests Dr Tania Singer.

Dominique Fourniol | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Sibling differences: Later-borns choose less prestigious programs at university
14.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung

nachricht Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ
09.11.2017 | Vanderbilt University

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk

17.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Only an atom thick: Physicists succeed in measuring mechanical properties of 2D monolayer materials

17.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Fraunhofer HHI receives AIS Technology Innovation Award 2018 for 3D Human Body Reconstruction

17.01.2018 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>