Mentalizing About Emotion and its Relationship to Empathy

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Mentalizing About Emotion and its Relationship to Empathy

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Title: Mentalizing About Emotion and its Relationship to Empathy
Author: Hooker, Christine; Germine, Laura; D'Esposito, Mark; Knight, Robert T.; Verosky, Sara C.

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Citation: Hooker, Christine I., Sara C. Verosky, Laura T. Germine, Robert T. Knight, and Mark D'Esposito. 2008. Mentalizing about emotion and its relationship to empathy. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 3, no. 3: 204-217.
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Abstract: Mentalizing involves the ability to predict someone elses behavior based on their belief state. More advanced mentalizing skills involve integrating knowledge about beliefs with knowledge about the emotional impact of those beliefs. Recent research indicates that advanced mentalizing skills may be related to the capacity to empathize with others. However, it is not clear what aspect of mentalizing is most related to empathy. In this study, we used a novel, advanced mentalizing task to identify neural mechanisms involved in predicting a future emotional response based on a belief state. Subjects viewed social scenes in which one character had a False Belief and one character had a True Belief. In the primary condition, subjects were asked to predict what emotion the False Belief Character would feel if they had a full understanding about the situation. We found that neural regions related to both mentalizing and emotion were involved when predicting a future emotional response, including the superior temporal sulcus, medial prefrontal cortex, temporal poles, somatosensory related cortices (SRC), inferior frontal gyrus and thalamus. In addition, greater neural activity in primarily emotion-related regions, including right SRC and bilateral thalamus, when predicting emotional response was significantly correlated with more self-reported empathy. The findings suggest that predicting emotional response involves generating and using internal affective representations and that greater use of these affective representations when trying to understand the emotional experience of others is related to more empathy.
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