From Science Daily:

The ability to understand and empathize with others’ pain is grounded in cognitive neural processes rather than sensory ones, according to the results of a new study led by University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

The findings show that the act of perceiving others’ pain (i.e., empathy for others’ pain) does not appear to involve the same neural circuitry as experiencing pain in one’s own body, suggesting that they are different interactions within the brain.

“The research suggests that empathy is a deliberative process that requires taking another person’s perspective rather than being an instinctive, automatic process,” said Tor Wager, the senior author of the study, director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at CU-Boulder.

A study detailing the results was published online today in the journal eLife.

Empathy is a key cornerstone of human social behavior, but the complex neural interactions underlying this behavior are not yet fully understood. Previous hypotheses have suggested that the same brain regions that allow humans to feel pain in their own bodies might activate when perceiving the pain of others.

To test this idea, the researchers compared patterns of brain activity in human volunteers as they experienced moderate pain directly (via heat, shock, or pressure) in one experimental session, and watched images of others’ hands or feet being injured in another experimental session. When volunteers watched images, they were asked to try to imagine that the injuries were happening to their own bodies.

The researchers found that…

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