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Imaging circles of engagement: Neural correlates of parent empathic distress in the context of chronic pain


Chronic pain affects the lives of over a quarter of adolescents world-wide. For a parent to see their child suffering is particularly distressing. Not surprisingly, parents of children with chronic pain are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, or depressive symptoms. Vice versa, parent responses can powerfully modulate (i.e., mitigate or magnify) their child’s pain-related functioning. A key, so far neglected, variable may be parent empathic distress, hindering the parents’ ability to respond in ways to promote the child’s functioning. The neural mechanisms underlying parent empathic distress and its impact have not been studied before and will be the main focus of this proposal. I hypothesize that parents’ empathic distress triggered by observing their child’s pain is of key importance for understanding parent-child interactions in the context of paediatric pain and that identifying the driving mechanisms will provide novel points for parent-targeted treatments.
PARENT_EMPATHY is a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study and will recruit parent-child dyads in which the child has chronic pain via the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Stanford’s Children’s Health. Using an empathy paradigm, I will define the physiological and neural correlates of parent empathic distress in response to observing their own child’s pain (facial expressions combined with autobiographical vignettes). Further, I will examine the contribution of parent empathic distress to individual differences in parent pain-related behavior as well as in the child’s pain-related functioning.
This MSCA will enable me to carry out my independent project with the Biobehavioral Pediatric Pain (BPP) lab at Stanford University, reinforcing my scientific maturity. Working in this inspiring and successful environment with ample opportunities to enjoy superb training programs will boost my professional, scientific and personal development, and will greatly enhance my career possibilities.

Field of science

  • /engineering and technology/medical engineering/diagnostic imaging/magnetic resonance imaging

Call for proposal

See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-GF - Global Fellowships


Minderbroedersberg 4-6
6200 MD Maastricht
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 170 419,20

Partners (1)

United States
Serra Mall 450
94305 2004 Stanford
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments