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Dissecting the social brain: Independency and interaction of empathy and mentalizing


Kanske,  Philipp
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kanske, P. (2015). Dissecting the social brain: Independency and interaction of empathy and mentalizing. Talk presented at Berlin School of Mind and Brain. Humboldt University Berlin, Germany. 2015-01-01 - 2015-01-01.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-3477-8
Social neuroscience has identified different neural networks that support communication and interaction. These can be broadly divided into more affective (empathy and compassion) or cognitive (Theory of Mind (ToM)) domains. While the anterior insula is critically involved in empathy with another, compassion for another activates also subcortical regions including the ventral striatum. ToM tasks typically engage the temporoparietal junction, temporal poles and medial prefrontal cortex. Little is known about the relation of empathy and ToM, which entails two important questions. The first question concerns the separability of the neural networks underlying empathy and ToM and the relation of inter-individual differences in empathy and ToM, both behaviorally and neurally. This is to say, do individuals high in empathic responding also perform better in ToM tasks, does strong empathic responding hinder mentalizing, or do these routes to understanding others vary independently? The second question concerns the online interaction of the empathy and ToM network during complex social situations. This question asks, how affective and cognitive routes are orchestrated within an individual when it comes to the understanding of others. Results from a novel paradigm applied in a large-scale longitudinal training study demonstrate relative independence of empathy and ToM on an inter-individual differences level, thus empathizers are not (necessarily) mentalizers. Differential change due to training in one or the other capacity is further, strong evidence for separate networks. The networks underlying empathy and ToM do, however, interact during online understanding of others with the temporoparietal junction acting as a critical node mediating this interaction.