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eISSN: 1643-3750

How we empathize with others: A neurobiological perspective

Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda, Krystyna Rymarczyk, Anna Grabowska

Med Sci Monit 2011; 17(1): RA18-28

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.881324

Published: 2010-12-16

Empathy allows us to internally simulate the affective and cognitive mental states of others. Neurobiological studies suggest that empathy is a complex phenomenon, which can be described using a model that includes 2 modes of processing: bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up neural processing is achieved via the mirroring representation systems that play a key role in the direct sharing of the emotional states of others. Top-down processing, known as cognitive perspective-taking or theory of mind, where the feelings of others are fully imagined and understood, is based on control and inhibition mechanisms. Available evidence indicates that empathic brain responses are likely to be influenced by several different modulating factors.

Keywords: Models, Psychological, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Humans, Empathy - physiology, Brain - physiology, Object Attachment, theory of mind