Changes in visual perspective influence brain activity patterns during cognitive perspective-taking of other people's pain.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neuropsychologia, Volume 85, p.327-36 (2016)


<p>Empathy refers to our capacity to share and understand the emotional states of others. It relies on two main processes according to existing models: an effortless affective sharing process based on neural resonance and a more effortful cognitive perspective-taking process enabling the ability to imagine and understand how others feel in specific situations. Until now, studies have focused on factors influencing the affective sharing process but little is known about those influencing the cognitive perspective-taking process and the related brain activations during vicarious pain. In the present fMRI study, we used the well-known physical pain observation task to examine whether the visual perspective can influence, in a bottom-up way, the brain regions involved in taking others' cognitive perspective to attribute their level of pain. We used a pseudo-dynamic version of this classic task which features hands in painful or neutral daily life situations while orthogonally manipulating: (1) the visual perspective with which hands were presented (first-person versus third-person conditions) and (2) the explicit instructions to imagine oneself or an unknown person in those situations (Self versus Other conditions). The cognitive perspective-taking process was investigated by comparing Other and Self conditions. When examined across both visual perspectives, this comparison showed no supra-threshold activation. Instead, the Other versus Self comparison led to a specific recruitment of the bilateral temporo-parietal junction when hands were presented according to a first-person (but not third-person) visual perspective. The present findings identify the visual perspective as a factor that modulates the neural activations related to cognitive perspective-taking during vicarious pain and show that this complex cognitive process can be influenced by perceptual stages of information processing.</p>

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