Brain imaging studies of Empathy and Compassion

Gaelle Desbordes CCARE Summer Research Institute July 2013

The neural basis of empathy
Bernhardt & Singer, Annual Review in Neuroscience 2012

Neural basis of empathy for pain
Anterior/Middle Cingulate Cortex

Anterior Insula

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Cue-based experiments

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Picture-based experiments

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Cue-based experiments stimulate the Mentalizing (Theory of Mind) network

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Picture-based experiments stimulate the Mirror-Neuron network

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Empathy, and corresponding insula activation, are modulated by individual traits such as alexithymia

Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Empathy response to another player’s suffering is modulated by their perceived fairness

Anterior Insula (AI)

Singer et al., Science, 2006; Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Empathy response to another player’s suffering is modulated by their perceived fairness

Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc)

Singer et al., Science, 2006; Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Empathy response to another player’s suffering is modulated by ingroup/outgroup membership

Hein et al., Neuron, 2010; Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Empathy response to another player’s suffering is modulated by ingroup/outgroup membership

Hein et al., Neuron, 2010; Bernhardt & Singer, Ann. Rev. Neurosci., 2012

Love hurts: an fMRI study
Cheng, Chen, Li, Chou & Decety, NeuroImage 2010

Empathy for pain in 3 different perspective-taking conditions

Cheng et al., NeuroImage, 2010
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Empathy for pain in loved-one vs. stranger engage different brain regions

Cheng et al., NeuroImage, 2010
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Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity
Mascaro, Rilling, Negi & Raison, Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 2013

The Compassion Attention Longitudinal Meditation (CALM) study
• healthy subjects, 25-55 years-old • 8-week intervention, 2 hours/week • 3 randomized groups: – Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) – Mindful-Attention Training (shamatha meditation) – Active control • Homework: meditate 20-30 min every day

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Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET): testing “Mentalizing” abilities

Mascaro et al., SCAN, 2013
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After compassion training, increased activation in “mentalizing” areas
Mascaro et al., SCAN, 2013
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Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training
Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm & Singer, Cerebral Cortex 2013

Socio-Affective Video Task

Klimecki et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2013
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Subjective ratings of empathy

Regions parametrically modulated by selfreported empathy:

Klimecki et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2013
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Study design
• • • • 18–35 year-old females 1-day (6-hr) course in loving-kindness meditation Guided practices of 15–30 min each Participants kept practicing for a few additional hours, during evening classes, laboratory assessments (3x45 min), and at home. • Control group: Memory training.

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Changes in positive affect, negative affect, and empathy after Compassion or Memory training

Klimecki et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2013
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Effects of COM and MEM training on brain response to HE videos

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Conclusion: Effects of one-day training in compassion meditation

1. Increased positive affect, even in response to others’ suffering
2. Stronger activations in a specific neural network including the mOFC, pallidum, putamen, and VTA/SN—brain regions previously implicated in positive valuation, love, and affiliation

Klimecki et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2013
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Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training
Klimecki, Leiberg, Ricard & Singer, Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 2013

Study design: empathy, followed by compassion, training vs. memory training

Klimecki et al., SCAN, 2013
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Empathy and compassion engage distinct brain networks

Klimecki et al., SCAN, 2013
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Empathy, compassion, memory training: different effects on empathy- and compassion-related brain regions

Klimecki et al., SCAN, 2013
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Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, nonmeditative state
Desbordes, Negi, Pace, Wallace, Raison & Schwartz, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2012

Amygdala response to emotional images, PRE/POST 8-week training
Control Mindful-Attention Meditation
p<0.05

Compassion Meditation

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POST

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Desbordes et al., Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012

Temporo-Parietal Junction (TPJ): global decrease
Control Mindful-Attention Meditation
p<0.05

Compassion Meditation
p<0.05

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PRE

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PRE

POST

PRE

POST

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PRE

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POST

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Right Anterior Insula: global decrease

Control

MAT
p<0.05

Compassion

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PRE POST
PRE POST PRE POST

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Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering
Weng, Fox, Schackman, Stodola, Caldwell, Olson, Rogers & Davidson, Psychological Science 2013

Study design
• COM: Loving-kindness and compassion training, inspired from Tibetan tradition, similar to CBCT • REA: Active control: Reappraisal technique (from CBT) • 2 weeks, 30-min per day (guided practice) • Healthy 18-45 y.o., N=20 COM, N=21 REA. • PRE and POST: fMRI task: watch IAPS images (suffering or neutral) while applying training (COM or REA) • POST only: play redistribution game with “real” players over the Internet

Hypotheses
• 2 brain systems for empathy:
– Experience sharing (putting yourself in someone else’s shoes) – Mentalizing (social inferences and self-referential processes)

• Altruistic responses to others’ suffering can be strengthened through 2 regulatory pathways:
– Decreased personal distress via stronger emotion regulation (increased PFC, decreased Amyg) – Increased empathic concern (increased Ant Insula and NAcc)

Redistribution game

Weng et al., Psych Sci, 2013

Weng et al., Psych Sci, 2013

Conclusions
• Compassion trainees were more altruistic in redistribution game than reappraisal trainees • In COM group, greater redistribution was associated with greater activation in right inferior parietal cortex when watching IAPS images of suffering (vs. neutral images) while evoking compassion. (No such association in REA group.) • Similar effect in R DLPFC (with opposite (!) association in REA group). • In COM group, greater redistribution tended to be associated (N/S) with higher DLPFC-NAcc connectivity: maybe increased positive appraisal of aversive stimuli, e.g. enhancing the reward value of the victim’s well-being (e.g., caring) and increasing the anticipated reward of helping the victim. • In REA group, lower redistribution was significantly associated with higher DLPFC-NAcc connectivity: goal was to decrease personal negative emotions?