Prof. Shihui Han: Neural mechanisms of modulations of empathy and altruism by beliefs of others' pain



Perceived cues signaling others' pain induce empathy which in turn motivates altruistic behavior toward those who appear suffering. This perception-emotion-behavior reactivity is the core of human altruism but does not always occur in real life situations. Here, by integrating behavioral and multimodal neuroimaging measures, we investigate neural mechanisms underlying modulations of empathy and altruistic behavior by beliefs of others' pain. We show evidence that lack of beliefs of others' pain reduces subjective estimation of others' painful feelings and decreases monetary donations to those who show pain expressions. Moreover, lack of beliefs of others' pain attenuates neural responses to their pain expressions within 200 ms after face onset and modulates neural responses to others' pain in the insular, post-central, and frontal cortices. Our findings suggest that beliefs of others’ pain provide a cognitive basis of human empathy and altruism and unravel the intermediate neural mechanisms.

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