Poster D32, Monday, March 27, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Embodied empathy when judging crimes: Interindividual differences predict responses in somatosensory brain areas
Claudia Denke1, Claudia Spies1, Andreas Heinz2, Andreas Ströhle2, Michael Schaefer3; 1Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine,Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, 2Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, 3Medical School Berlin
An increasing body of evidence suggests a role for somatosensation in perceiving and understanding social interactions. Numerous studies reported vicarious responses in the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) merely when seeing others being touched, which may be linked to a putative mirror neuron system. For example, watching video clips showing simply non-painful touch to a hand by a paintbrush resulted in vicarious somatosensory activation in SI. Recent research links this vicarious activation in the somatosensory cortices with empathic personality traits. Hence, the more empathic the observer is, the more the somatosensory cortices are vicariously activated when observing touch. While previous studies revealed this association when looking at simple touch to a hand, the current study aimed to examine the roles for empathy and somatosensory cortices in a more complex social scenario. We conducted a study with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in which we asked participants (N=17) to read ambivalent scenarios in a tactile priming paradigm. In these scenarios the protagonists explain their reason for having done crimes. Subsequently, the participants had to recommend sentences for the protagonists. Results revealed activation in somatosensory brain areas (SI) when judging the delinquents depending on the priming. This brain activation and the behavioral data were associated with trait differences in empathy. We conclude that these results provide further support for a role of the somatosensory cortices in empathic situations.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Other