Age-related differences in structural and functional networks involved in empathy for positive and negative emotions

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Maryam ZiaeiN. Ebner


Empathy, among other social-cognitive processes, changes across adulthood. More specifically, cognitive components of empathy (understanding another perspective) appear to decline with age, while findings for affective empathy (sharing another emotional state) are rather mixed. Structural and functional correlates underlying cognitive and affective empathy in aging and the extent to which valence affects empathic response in brain and behavior are not well understood yet. To fill these research gaps, younger and older participants completed a modified version of the Multifaceted Empathy Test, which measures both cognitive and affective empathy. Adopting a multimodal imaging approach and applying multivariate analysis, the study found that regions of the salience network, including the anterior insula and anterior cingulate, were more involved in cognitive empathy to negative emotions in older than younger participants. For affective empathy to positive emotions, in contrast, younger and older participants recruited a similar brain network including main nodes of the default mode network. Additionally, it was found that increased structural integrity (fractional anisotropy values) of the posterior, but not the anterior, cingulum...Continue Reading

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