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Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00507

Neural mechanisms with respect to different paradigms and relevant regulatory factors in empathy for pain

yien xiang1, yicun wang1 and  Xuewen Zhang1*
  • 1Jilin University, China

Empathy for pain is thought to activate the affective-motivational components of the pain matrix, which includes the anterior insula and middle and anterior cingulate cortices, as indicated by functional magnetic resonance imaging and other methodologies. Activity in this core neural network reflects the affective experience that activates our responses to pain and lays the neural foundation for our understanding of our own emotions and those of others. Furthermore, although picture-based paradigms can activate somatosensory components of directly experienced pain, cue-based paradigms cannot. In addition to this difference, the two paradigms evoke other distinct neuronal responses. Although the automatic “perception-action” model has long been the dominant theory for pain empathy, a “bottom-up, top-down” mechanism seems to be more comprehensive and persuasive. Indeed, a variety of factors can regulate the intensity of empathy for pain through “top-down” processes. In this paper, we integrate and generalize knowledge regarding pain empathy and introduce the findings from recent studies. We also present ideas for future research into the neural mechanisms underlying pain empathy.

Keywords: Empathy, Pain, insula, Cingulate cortex, fMRI

Received: 28 Apr 2018; Accepted: 04 Jul 2018.

Edited by:

Li Hu, Institute of Psychology (CAS), China

Reviewed by:

Chenbo Wang, East China Normal University, China
Fang Cui, Shenzhen University, China  

Copyright: © 2018 xiang, wang and Zhang. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Xuewen Zhang, Jilin University, Changchun, China,