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When differences matter: rTMS/fMRI reveals how differences in dispositional empathy translate to distinct neural underpinnings of self-other distinction in empathy


Ruff, Christian C; Bukowski, Henryk; Tik, Martin; Silani, Giorgia; Windischberger, Christian; Lamm, Claus (2020). When differences matter: rTMS/fMRI reveals how differences in dispositional empathy translate to distinct neural underpinnings of self-other distinction in empathy. Cortex, 128:143-161.

Abstract

Self-other distinction is crucial for empathy, since it prevents the confusion of self-experienced emotions with those of others. We aimed to extend our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms of self-other distinction. Thirty-one female participants underwent continuous theta burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTBS) targeting the supramarginal gyrus (rSMG), a sub-region of the temporoparietal junction previously shown to be involved in self-other distinction, and the vertex, a cortical control site. Right after stimulation they completed a visuo-tactile empathy task in an MRI scanner. Self-other distinction performance was assessed by differences in emotion judgments and brain activity between conditions differing in the requirement for self-other distinction. Effects of rSMG-cTBS (compared to vertex cTBS) on self-other distinction depended on dispositional empathic understanding: they decreased self-other distinction in participants with lower dispositional empathic understanding, but increased it in participants with higher empathic understanding. On the neural level, this inverse relationship between disposition and self-other distinction performance translated into a reduction or an increase of cTBS-induced rSMG activity, in persons with lower and higher dispositional empathy, respectively. Moreover, the differences in rSMG activity were associated with two anatomically and functionally distinct networks. These findings open up novel perspectives on the causal role of rSMG in self-other distinction and empathy. They also suggest that considering individual differences may yield novel insights into how brain stimulation affects higher-level affect and cognition, and its neural correlates.

Abstract

Self-other distinction is crucial for empathy, since it prevents the confusion of self-experienced emotions with those of others. We aimed to extend our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms of self-other distinction. Thirty-one female participants underwent continuous theta burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTBS) targeting the supramarginal gyrus (rSMG), a sub-region of the temporoparietal junction previously shown to be involved in self-other distinction, and the vertex, a cortical control site. Right after stimulation they completed a visuo-tactile empathy task in an MRI scanner. Self-other distinction performance was assessed by differences in emotion judgments and brain activity between conditions differing in the requirement for self-other distinction. Effects of rSMG-cTBS (compared to vertex cTBS) on self-other distinction depended on dispositional empathic understanding: they decreased self-other distinction in participants with lower dispositional empathic understanding, but increased it in participants with higher empathic understanding. On the neural level, this inverse relationship between disposition and self-other distinction performance translated into a reduction or an increase of cTBS-induced rSMG activity, in persons with lower and higher dispositional empathy, respectively. Moreover, the differences in rSMG activity were associated with two anatomically and functionally distinct networks. These findings open up novel perspectives on the causal role of rSMG in self-other distinction and empathy. They also suggest that considering individual differences may yield novel insights into how brain stimulation affects higher-level affect and cognition, and its neural correlates.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Uncontrolled Keywords:Empathy, fMRI, cTBS, self-other distinction, egocentric bias
Scope:Discipline-based scholarship (basic research)
Language:English
Date:July 2020
Deposited On:25 Feb 2020 13:19
Last Modified:23 May 2024 01:51
Publisher:Elsevier
Series Name:PsyArXiv Preprints
Number of Pages:44
ISSN:0010-9452
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2020.03.009
Other Identification Number:merlin-id:19245