An interbrain approach for understanding empathy: The contribution of empathy to interpersonal emotion regulation

S. Franklin-Gillette, S. G. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

Despite much research on the neural underpinnings of empathy, little research in humans has directly explored the contribution of empathy to interpersonal distress regulation in the suffering target. A growing body of work now investigates interpersonal emotion regulation-how an individual influences and affects the emotions of another person. Here we argue that emotional and cognitive empathy play a major role in interpersonal emotion regulation. We propose a model of interpersonal emotion regulation that starts and ends with the distress of the target. The distress of the target evokes both emotional and cognitive empathy in the empathizer. Emotional empathy contributes to the reduction of distress by automatic empathic reactions (e.g., mimicry and social touch), which are prompted by the neural mechanisms underlying emotional empathy (based in the anterior insula, the dorsal-anterior/anterior-midcingulate cortex, and the inferior frontal gyrus). On the other hand, cognitive empathy contributes to interpersonal emotion regulation through more deliberate reactions, such as strategy selection, mediated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Through these separate mechanisms, emotional and cognitive empathy play unique roles in interpersonal emotion regulation, and differentially contribute to the reduction of distress in the target, which in turn leads to a reduction of empathetic arousal in the empathizer.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Neural Basis of Mentalizing
PublisherSpringer
Pages567-578
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9783030518905
ISBN (Print)9783030518899
DOIs
StatePublished - 11 May 2021

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Hyperscanning
  • Interbrain coupling
  • Interpersonal emotion regulation
  • Social support
  • Synchronization

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Medicine
  • General Psychology

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