A physician's ability to empathize may be in the genes

July 1, 2014
A physician's ability to empathize may be in the genes

(HealthDay)—Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is associated with increased activation of brain regions involved in awareness, attention, and action planning, according to a study published online June 23 in Brain and Behavior.

Noting that self-report studies show high-SPS individuals are strongly affected by others' moods, Bianca P. Acevedo, Ph.D., from the University of California in Santa Barbara, and colleagues examined the of SPS, measured by the standard short-form Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) scale. The functional magnetic resonance imaging study was conducted in 18 participants (10 female) who viewed photos of their romantic partners and of strangers displaying positive, negative, or neutral facial expressions. Thirteen of the 18 participants were scanned twice, one year apart.

The researchers found that HSP scores correlated with increased in the cingulate and premotor area (involved in attention and action planning) across all conditions. SPS correlated with activation of regions involved in awareness, integration of sensory information, empathy, and action planning for happy and sad photo conditions. HSP scores correlated with stronger activation of involved in awareness, empathy, and self-other processing for partner images and happy facial photos.

"We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity during the 12 second period when they viewed the photos," a coauthor said in a statement. "This is physical evidence within the brain that highly sensitive individuals respond especially strongly to social situations that trigger emotions, in this case of faces being happy or sad."

Explore further: A neurological basis for the lack of empathy in psychopaths

More information: Abstract
Full Text

Related Stories

A neurological basis for the lack of empathy in psychopaths

September 24, 2013

When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing ...

The science behind rewards and punishment

May 8, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—In a neuroimaging study, a UQ psychologist has examined whether having allegiances with someone can affect feelings of empathy when punishing and rewarding others.

Brain regions sensitive to facial color processing

June 25, 2014

Toyohashi Tech researchers in cooperation with researchers at National Institute for Physiological Sciences have found brain regions sensitive to natural-colored faces rather than bluish-colored face. These regions may contribute ...

Recommended for you

How the brain's wiring leads to cognitive control

October 6, 2015

How does the brain determine which direction to let its thoughts fly? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive control of thought, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California and United States ...

Surprise: Your visual cortex is making decisions

October 5, 2015

The part of the brain responsible for seeing is more powerful than previously believed. In fact, the visual cortex can essentially make decisions just like the brain's traditional "higher level" areas, finds a new study led ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.