Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Empathy and the Brain #1

Recently there have been references to empathy in the news, especially in relation to pain. Empathy is believed to active some, but not all of the brain’s pain-processing regions. If you pick up a hot spoon handle, pain shoots through nerves into temperature receptors on your skin. It goes up your spine and into your brain. Some brain regions process where the pain comes from and how really hot the spoon was. Other regions process how unpleasant you perceived the pain to be. Therefore, how much the burn hurts and how bothersome this pain is differs for each situation and for each individual. It depends partly on what else is going on in your brain and in the environment. Knowing that someone you love is in pain automatically activates the subjective pain-processing regions of your brain, which leads to empathy. But the areas involved in processing the exact location of the pain in your body as well as the objective intensity of the pain appear to be involved only when you experience pain in yourself.

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