Empathy and moral emotions in post-apartheid South Africa

Moral emotions elicited in response to others’ suffering are mediated by empathy and affect how we respond to their pain. South Africa provides a unique opportunity to study group processes given its racially divided past. The present study seeks insights into aspects of the moral brain by investigating behavioral and functional MRI responses of White and Black South Africans who lived through apartheid to in- and out-group physical and social pain. Whereas the physical pain task featured faces expressing dynamic suffering, the social pain task featured victims of apartheid violence from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to elicit heartfelt emotion. Black participants’ behavioral responses were suggestive of in-group favoritism, whereas White participants’ responses were apparently egalitarian. However, all participants showed significant in-group biases in activation in the amygdala (physical pain), as well as areas involved in mental state representation, including the precuneus, temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and frontal pole (physical and social pain). Additionally, Black participants reacted with heightened moral indignation to own-race suffering, whereas White participants reacted with heightened shame to Black suffering, which was associated with blunted neural empathic responding. These findings provide ecologically valid insights into some behavioral and brain processes involved in complex moral situations.

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Posted in Empathy, Moral, Moral emotions, Morality | Tagged , , ,

An unpleasant emotional state reduces working memory capacity

Emotional states can guide the actions and decisions we make in our everyday life through their influence on cognitive processes such as working memory (WM). We investigated the long-lasting interference that an unpleasant emotional state had on goal-relevant WM representations from an electrophysiological perspective. Participants performed a change detection task that was preceded by the presentation of unpleasant or neutral task-irrelevant pictures in a blocked fashion. We focused on the contralateral delay activity (CDA), an event-related potential that is sensitive to the number of task-relevant items stored in WM. We found that the asymptotic limit for the CDA amplitude was lower during the unpleasant emotional state than during the neutral one; that is, an emotional state was capable of reducing how many task-relevant items the participants could hold in WM. Furthermore, both the individuals who experienced more intrusive thoughts and those who were dispositionally anxious were more susceptible to the influence of the emotional state. We provide evidence that an unpleasant emotional state diminished visual WM for task-relevant items, particularly in susceptible individuals. These results open new avenues to uncover the emotional-cognitive processing that underlies maladaptive WM representations and the role of such processing in the development of mental illness.

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Posted in Cognition, Cognitive empathy, Emotional memories, Emotions, Memory | Tagged , , , ,

On empathizers and mentalizers

Although the processes that underlie sharing others’ emotions (empathy) and understanding others’ mental states (mentalizing, Theory of Mind) have received increasing attention, it is yet unclear how they relate to each other. For instance, are people who strongly empathize with others also more proficient in mentalizing? And (how) do the neural networks supporting empathy and mentalizing interact? Assessing both functions simultaneously in a large sample (N = 178), we show that people’s capacities to empathize and mentalize are independent, both on a behavioral and neural level. Thus, strong empathizers are not necessarily proficient mentalizers, arguing against a general capacity of social understanding. Second, we applied dynamic causal modeling to investigate how the neural networks underlying empathy and mentalizing are orchestrated in naturalistic social settings. Results reveal that in highly emotional situations, empathic sharing can inhibit mentalizing-related activity and thereby harm mentalizing performance. Taken together, our findings speak against a unitary construct of social understanding and suggest flexible interplay of distinct social functions.

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Posted in Empathy, Mentalizing | Tagged ,

Tribal love: the neural correlates of passionate engagement in football fans

The tribal character of the affective link between football fans and their teams is a well-recognized phenomenon. Other forms of love such as romantic or maternal attachment have previously been studied from a neuroimaging point of view. Here we aimed to investigate the neural basis of this tribal form of love, which implies both the feeling of belongingness and rivalry against opposing teams. A pool of 56 participants was submitted to an fMRI experimental design involving the presentation of winning and losing football moments of their loved, rival or neutral teams. We found recruitment of amygdala and reward regions, including the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra (SN), as well as other limbic regions involved in emotional cognition, for ‘positive vs neutral’ and ‘positive vs negative’ conditions. The latter contrast was correlated with neuropsychological scores of fanaticism in the amygdala and regions within the reward system, as the VTA and SN. The observation of increased response patterns in critical components of the reward system, in particular for positive content related to the loved team, suggests that this kind of non-romantic love reflects a specific arousal and motivational state, which is biased for emotional learning of positive outcomes.

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Posted in Affective, Brains, Tribe | Tagged , ,

Blood type help Protect from Cognitive Decline

A pioneering study conducted by leading researchers at the University of Sheffield has revealed blood types play a role in the development of the nervous system and may cause a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.

The research, carried out in collaboration with the IRCCS San Camillo Hospital Foundation in Venice, shows that people with an ‘O’ blood type have more grey matter in their brain, which helps to protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, than those with ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘AB’ blood types.

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Research: O’ blood type is associated with larger grey-matter volumes in the
cerebellum

Posted in Blood, Cognitive decline | Tagged ,

Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to Music

Researchers report on why some people experience more intense emotions while listening to music.

Humans uniquely appreciate aesthetics, experiencing pleasurable responses to complex stimuli that confer no clear intrinsic value for survival. However, substantial variability exists in the frequency and specificity of aesthetic responses. While pleasure from aesthetics is attributed to the neural circuitry for reward, what accounts for individual differences in aesthetic reward sensitivity remains unclear. Using a combination of survey data, behavioral and psychophysiological measures and diffusion tensor imaging, we found that white matter connectivity between sensory processing areas in the superior temporal gyrus and emotional and social processing areas in the insula and medial prefrontal cortex explains individual differences in reward sensitivity to music. Our findings provide the first evidence for a neural basis of individual differences in sensory access to the reward system and suggest that social–emotional communication through the auditory channel may offer an evolutionary basis for music making as an aesthetically rewarding function in humans.

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Posted in Aesthetic, Brains, Music | Tagged , ,

Researchers Slow Aging and Extend Lifespan

Researchers have developed a method of removing damaged mitochondria in fruit flies, causing the insects to become more active and increasing typical lifespan. UCLA researchers report the method could eventually be used to benefit humans and delay the onset of age-related diseases.

UCLA biologists have developed an intervention that serves as a cellular time machine — turning back the clock on a key component of aging. In a study on middle-aged fruit flies, the researchers substantially improved the animals’ health while significantly slowing their aging. They believe the technique could eventually lead to a way to delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases in humans.

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Posted in Aging, Lifespan | Tagged ,

Exploring the Musical Mind: Cognition, Emotion, Ability, Function

In the 20 years since the publication of John Sloboda’s landmark volume The Musical Mind, music psychology has developed as a vibrant area of research – exerting influence on areas as diverse as music education and cognitive neuroscience. This new book brings together 24 selected essays and reviews written by an internationally acclaimed authority on music and the mind. Chapters are grouped into four main areas of study. These are cognitive processes (including music reading, memory, and performance), emotion and motivation, talent and skill development, and music in the real world (including functions of music in everyday life and culture). The book ends with a newly written chapter on music psychology and social benefits. The book brings together in one place a range of influential writings, whose links to one another provide a compendious overview of a subject that has come to maturity during the author’s career, a career which has significantly contributed to the development of the field.

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Posted in Brains, Mind, Music | Tagged , ,

Music improves Baby brain responses to music and speech

New research shows that play sessions with music improved babies’ brain processing of both music and new speech sounds. Engaging musical experiences can help babies develop cognitive skills. Rock your baby in sync with music and you may wonder how the experience affects her and her developing brain. A new study by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) shows that a series of play sessions with music improved 9-month-old babies’ brain processing of both music and new speech sounds.

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Posted in Baby, Brains, Music | Tagged , ,

Music has powerful (and visible) effects on the Brain

It doesn’t matter if it’s Bach, the Beatles, Brad Paisley or Bruno Mars. Your favorite music likely triggers a similar type of activity in your brain as other people’s favorites do in theirs, new research has found.

That’s one of the things Jonathan Burdette, M.D., has found in researching music’s effects on the brain. “Music is primal. It affects all of us, but in very personal, unique ways,” said Burdette, a neuroradiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Your interaction with music is different than mine, but it’s still powerful.

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Posted in Brains, Music | Tagged ,