About this Research Topic
Affective empathy -perceiving and sharing in the emotions of others- is critical to all interpersonal interactions. Interpersonal interactions also require effective communication of not only a message, but also the intent of the message and the emotion of the speaker. Affect is communicated less by words than by prosody – variations in loudness, rate, rhythm, and tone of voice – as well as accompanying facial expression and gestures, and this often provides a window into the speaker’s intentions. Imagine not understanding what your spouse intends when they say in response to a gift, “I have never seen anything like it.” This sort of utterance might convey pleasure, awe, gratitude, or disgust depending on the prosody. Or imagine not being able to convey prosody effectively. People would frequently misinterpret your meaning. When the prosody and the message are not consistent, the speaker is often interpreted as being sarcastic. Likewise, inability to effectively communicate emotion (or to recognize another’s emotion) can be interpreted as lack of empathy, even if the person can experience the emotions of others.
Neurodegenerative disease and focal brain lesions can disrupt various components of affective empathy. Likewise, people with focal neurological disease – particularly in the right hemisphere – often have trouble conveying emotion through prosody and facial expression. Sometimes their flat, monotone voice and neutral facial expression are mistaken for lack of feeling, empathy, or joy. Many investigators have reported impairments of expression or recognition of emotion through prosody and facial expression in people with Parkinson’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, frontotemporal dementia, or stroke.
A recent explosion of research, both with neurotypical adults and individuals with brain lesions, has been devoted to delineating the cognitive and emotional processes underlying affective empathy. Fewer studies have aimed to identify the precise auditory, cognitive, and motor processes and the neural mechanisms that support emotional communication. However, recent functional and structural imaging studies have revealed many new insights in these domains. Some patient studies have revealed specific brain regions or networks where focal or progressive damage disrupts a particular aspect of affective empathy, prosody or facial expression. Other studies with healthy individuals have shown that certain areas of activation or functional connectivity networks are associated with specific aspects of affective empathy and emotional communication. We wish to bring together a methodologically diverse range of scientifically rigorous neuroimaging studies that further advance our knowledge of how these critical aspects of human interaction are accomplished, how they break down after brain damage, and how they recover. By advancing a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms underlying affective empathy, emotional comprehension, and production of affective prosody and facial expression, we hope to lay the groundwork for developing practical and effective interventions for people with deficits in these functions. This Research Topic welcomes all types of articles (mechanistic studies, systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, etc.) that provide the latest evidence regarding neuroimaging of affective empathy and/or emotional communication.
Keywords: fMRI, neuroimaging, brain mapping, Emotion, Empathy
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