Neural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas.

TitleNeural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsCarr, L, Iacoboni M, Dubeau M-C, Mazziotta JC, Lenzi GL
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume100
Issue9
Pagination5497-502
Date Published2003 Apr 29
ISSN0027-8424
KeywordsAdult, Behavior, Empathy, Female, Humans, Limbic System, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male
Abstract

How do we empathize with others? A mechanism according to which action representation modulates emotional activity may provide an essential functional architecture for empathy. The superior temporal and inferior frontal cortices are critical areas for action representation and are connected to the limbic system via the insula. Thus, the insula may be a critical relay from action representation to emotion. We used functional MRI while subjects were either imitating or simply observing emotional facial expressions. Imitation and observation of emotions activated a largely similar network of brain areas. Within this network, there was greater activity during imitation, compared with observation of emotions, in premotor areas including the inferior frontal cortex, as well as in the superior temporal cortex, insula, and amygdala. We understand what others feel by a mechanism of action representation that allows empathy and modulates our emotional content. The insula plays a fundamental role in this mechanism.

DOI10.1002/gps.3790
Alternate JournalProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.