An international team of researchers has demonstrated, for the first time, that a particular area of the brain — called the anterior insular cortex — is where human empathy originates.
Over the past decade, scientists have used powerful functional MRI imaging to identify several regions in the brain that are associated with empathy for pain. The current study, however, firmly indicates that the feeling of empathy originates in the anterior insular cortex.
“Our findings provide strong evidence that empathy is mediated in a specific area of the brain,” said Gu, who now works at University College London. “The findings have implications for a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as autism and some forms of dementia, which are characterized by prominent deficits in higher-level social functioning.”
The research suggests that behavioral and cognitive therapies can be developed to compensate for problems in the anterior insular cortex and its related functions.