Empathy is generally thought of as the ability to share the emotional experiences of others. In scientific terms, this is usually operationalized as an ability to vicariously feel others' mental and emotional experiences. Supporting this account, research demonstrates that watching others experience physical pain activates similar brain regions to the actual experience of pain itself. First-hand experience of social rejection also activates this network. The current work extends these findings by examining whether the "pain" network is similarly implicated in witnessing rejection, and whether emotional closeness modulates this response. We provide evidence for each of these suppositions, demonstrating: (a) that the pain network is activated when watching a friend suffer social rejection, and (b) that interpersonal closeness with that friend modulates this response. Further, we found that the inferior frontal gyrus, critical for representing others' mental and emotional states, mediates the relationship between emotional closeness and neural responses to watching the rejection of a friend.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience