Among the control group, the scan showed that the pain circuit, which comprises somatosensory cortex, anterior insula, periaqueducal gray and anterior cigulate cortex, was activated when members of that group saw someone touch with a needle but not activated when the person was touched with a Q-tip.
Physicians registered no increase in activity in the portion of the brain related to pain, whether they saw an image of someone stuck with a needle or touched with a Q-tip. However, the physicians, unlike the control group, did register an increase in activity in the frontal areas of the brain--the medial and superior prefrontal cortices and the right tempororparietal junction. That is the neural circuit that is related to emotion regulation and cognitive control.
They also asked the two groups to rate the level of pain they felt people were experiencing while being pricked with needles. The control group rated the pain at about 7 points on a 10-point scale, while the physicians said the pain was probably at 3 points on that scale.
Those findings reflected the prediction the scholars had going into the study.
It would not be adaptive if this automatic sharing mechanism for pain was not modulated by cognitive control. Think, for instance, of the situations that surgeons, dentists, and nurses face in their everyday professional practices. Without some regulatory mechanism, it is very likely that medical practioners would experience personal distress and anxiety that would interfere with their ability to heal, the researchers write.
For Decety, this new study also casts light on the mechanisms involved in empathy and empathic concern. The former relies on our capacity to s
|Contact: William Harms|
University of Chicago