CUED Publications database

Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others.

Singer, T and Seymour, B and O'Doherty, JP and Stephan, KE and Dolan, RJ and Frith, CD (2005) Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature, 439. pp. 466-469.

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The neural processes underlying empathy are a subject of intense interest within the social neurosciences. However, very little is known about how brain empathic responses are modulated by the affective link between individuals. We show here that empathic responses are modulated by learned preferences, a result consistent with economic models of social preferences. We engaged male and female volunteers in an economic game, in which two confederates played fairly or unfairly, and then measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while these same volunteers observed the confederates receiving pain. Both sexes exhibited empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas (fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortices) towards fair players. However, these empathy-related responses were significantly reduced in males when observing an unfair person receiving pain. This effect was accompanied by increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge. We conclude that in men (at least) empathic responses are shaped by valuation of other people's social behaviour, such that they empathize with fair opponents while favouring the physical punishment of unfair opponents, a finding that echoes recent evidence for altruistic punishment.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Brain Empathy Female Game Theory Humans Learning Magnetic Resonance Imaging Male Nucleus Accumbens Pain Photic Stimulation Punishment Reward Sex Characteristics Social Justice
Divisions: Div F > Computational and Biological Learning
Depositing User: Cron Job
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2017 19:00
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2020 12:21
DOI: 10.1038/nature04271