Trait affective empathy mediates the relations between intrinsic default network functional connectivity and subjective happiness
Yuta Katsumi1, Natsumi Kondo2, Sanda Dolcos1, Florin Dolcos1, Takashi Tsukiura2; 1University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2Kyoto University
Subjective happiness is a multidimensional construct that indexes one’s evaluations of everyday emotional experiences, life satisfaction, and fulfillment, and is typically linked to high positive and low negative affect. Available evidence suggests that subjective happiness is closely related to empathy, broadly defined as the ability to understand others’ feelings and intentions based on a clear psychological distinction between the self and others. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying the relations between subjective happiness and different aspects of empathy, particularly with respect to the dynamics of resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC). In the present study, 67 college-aged Japanese females underwent resting-state fMRI recording, after which they completed self-report measures of subjective happiness and those of affective and cognitive empathy. Behaviorally, indices of affective empathy – empathic concern (other-focused feelings and concern) and personal distress (self-referential experience of others’ negative feelings) – positively and negatively predicted subjective happiness, respectively. At the neural level, greater default network RSFC was associated with decreased subjective happiness. Finally, mediation analysis revealed that greater RSFC within the default network “core” regions (typically implicated in self-referential processing) leads to decreased subjective happiness through increased self- vs. other-focus in empathic responses. Overall, these findings suggest that reduced engagement of self-referential processing at rest may allow for an adaptive switching from self- to other-focused cognition in empathic responses, which may in turn contribute to increased subjective happiness. This new evidence sheds light on the important link between intrinsic functional connectivity, empathy, and subjective happiness.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions