Acute lesions that impair affective empathy

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83 Scopus citations

Abstract

Functional imaging studies of healthy participants and previous lesion studies have provided evidence that empathy involves dissociable cognitive functions that rely on at least partially distinct neural networks that can be individually impaired by brain damage. These studies converge in support of the proposal that affective empathy - making inferences about how another person feels - engages at least the following areas: prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal gyrus, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, temporal pole, amygdala and temporoparietal junction. We hypothesized that right-sided lesions to any one of these structures, except temporoparietal junction, would cause impaired affective empathy (whereas bilateral damage to temporoparietal junction would be required to disrupt empathy). We studied 27 patients with acute right hemisphere ischaemic stroke and 24 neurologically intact inpatients on a test of affective empathy. Acute impairment of affective empathy was associated with infarcts in the hypothesized network, particularly temporal pole and anterior insula. All patients with impaired affective empathy were also impaired in comprehension of affective prosody, but many patients with impairments in prosodic comprehension had spared affective empathy. Patients with impaired affective empathy were older, but showed no difference in performance on tests of hemispatial neglect, volume of infarct or sex distribution compared with patients with intact affective empathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2539-2549
Number of pages11
JournalBrain
Volume136
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2013

Keywords

  • Emotion perception
  • Empathy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Prosody
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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