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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Towards a neuroscience of empathy: shared circuits for actions, emotions and sensations


Humans are social animals. While it is essential to understand what other people do and feel, we still lack an understanding of how the brain achieves this function. Research on social perception has focused on cognitive aspects. We propose to investigate an alternative account: 'shared circuits'. These are brain areas involved when we ourselves do an action or feel an emotion or a sensation AND when we witness someone else perform similar actions or feel similar emotions or sensations. Shared circuits refl ect a transformation of what other people do and feel into what we would have done or felt in the same situation. This transformation is thought to be critical for our intuitive understanding of others. Here, using fMRI and tractography in healthy control subjects, we propose to further investigate the role of the STS and the parietal and premotor cortex during the execution and observation of actions, that of the somatosensory cortices and emotional structures during the experience and observation of tacti le stimuli and emotions, respectively. These investigations will integrate the study of social cognitions in three fields (actions, emotions and sensations) around the single concept of ?shared circuits?. In addition we will investigate three groups of pat ients. (a) The brain activity in shared circuits of patients with psychiatric disorders characterized by a reduction in empathy (autism, sociopathy and schizophrenia) will be scanned to test if they show changes in the activity of their shared circuits com pared to healthy controls. These experiments will contribute to our understanding of these psychiatric disorders and test if shared circuits are important for normal social cognitions. (2) Patients with implanted depth electrodes or lesions will be used to test the necessary role of shared circuits. (3) By scanning patients born without limbs we will investigate the development of shared circuits. '

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