Monday, December 4, 2017

Extraordinary Altruists Exhibit Enhanced Self-other Overlap in Neural Responses to Distress

Brethel-Haurwitz, Kristin, Elise Cardinale, Kruti Vekaria, Emily L Robertson, Brian Walitt, John VanMeter, and Abigail Marsh. 2017. “Extraordinary Altruists Exhibit Enhanced Self-other Overlap in Neural Responses to Distress”. PsyArXiv. December 3.

Abstract: Shared neural representations during experienced and observed distress reflect empathy, which is hypothesized to support altruism. But the correspondence between real-world altruism and shared neural representations has not been directly tested; the role of empathy for distress in promoting altruism toward strangers has been recently questioned. Here we show that individuals who have performed costly altruism (donating a kidney to a stranger) exhibit greater self-other overlap in neural representations of pain and threat in anterior insula (AI) in an empathic pain paradigm. Altruists exhibited greater self-other correspondence in pain-related activation in left AI, highlighting that group-level overlap was supported by individual-level prediction of empathic pain by first-hand pain, but not threat. Altruists exhibited enhanced functional coupling of left AI with left mid-insula during empathic pain and threat, and bilateral amygdala during empathic threat. Results show that heightened neural instantiations of empathy correspond to real-world altruism and highlight limitations of self-report.

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