3 years ago

Age-related differences in the neural correlates of empathy for pleasant and unpleasant touch in a female sample

Empathy is essential for successful social interactions and relationships. The neural underpinnings of empathy have predominantly been studied in the young adult population, while little is known about how they evolve across the life-span. In the present study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate age-related differences of brain activity associated to empathy for positive and negative emotions. Female participants of three age groups – adolescents, young, and older adults- underwent an experimental paradigm inducing both first-hand and empathic experience of pleasant and unpleasant touch. Group comparisons and regression analyses revealed that older adults showed lower activation within the anterior insula with respect to young adults, during both empathy conditions. Further analyses provided evidence that years of education, Theory of Mind ability, grey matter volume, as well as first-hand affect processing did not account for these effects. These findings indicate that the neural bases of empathy change across different age groups, which selectively cover large parts of the human life span, from adolescence to old age, suggesting that the way in which we represent other’s positive and negative emotions may go through important modifications throughout different ages.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0197458017304256

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