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The neuroscience of empathy

Research Achievements

The neuroscience of empathy

Psychology student Margarita Svetlova studies the neuroscience of empathy. IGERT funding provided her with training in functional neuroimaging, allowing her to look for patterns of brain activity underlying empathic reactions in children and adults. In one experiment, 19 adult subjects produced and recorded scripts describing happy and sad moments from their lives. Later, while in the scanner, they listened to their recordings, and also to those of another subject matched for gender and emotional intensity.

The scans revealed activation in several brain regions involved in emotion processing in both self and others: amygdala, temporo-parietal junction, hippocampus, and dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex. But there was significantly greater activation in "self" compared to "other" conditions in cingulate cortex and insula, regions known to be involved in self-processing. Her next step will be to look for regions that were similarly active when processing one's own or another's emotions.