New review out in Brain Topography


The Role of Sensorimotor Processes in Pain Empathy by Dr. Igor Riečanský and Prof. Lamm

When witnessing somatic pain, such as seeing bodies in painful situations, significant activations occur not only in areas related to the processing of negative emotions, but also in neuronal structures engaged in somatosensation and the control of skeletal muscles. These empathy-related sensorimotor activations are selectively reviewed in this article, with a focus on studies using electrophysiological methods and paradigms investigating responses to somatic pain.

Our colleagues found evidence that empathy related sensorimotor activations: 

(1) occur at multiple levels of the nervous system, from the spinal cord up to the cerebral cortex 

(2) are best conceptualized as activations of a defensive system, in line with the role of pain to protect body from injury

(3) contribute to establishing a matching of psychological states between the sufferer and the observer, which ultimately supports empathic understanding and motivate prosocial action.

They conclude that future research should focus on how these sensorimotor responses are related to higher-order empathic responses, including affective sharing and emotion regulation, and how this motivates approach-related prosocial behaviors aimed at alleviating the pain and suffering of others.


For the whole paper click here.