EEG and fMRI evidence for autobiographical memory reactivation in empathy

Meconi, F., Linde-Domingo, J., Ferreira, C. S., Michelmann, S., Staresina, B., Apperly, I. A. and Hanslmayr, S. (2021) EEG and fMRI evidence for autobiographical memory reactivation in empathy. Human Brain Mapping, 42(14), pp. 4448-4464. (doi: 10.1002/hbm.25557) (PMID:34121270) (PMCID:PMC8410563)

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Empathy relies on the ability to mirror and to explicitly infer others' inner states. Theoretical accounts suggest that memories play a role in empathy, but direct evidence of reactivation of autobiographical memories (AM) in empathy is yet to be shown. We addressed this question in two experiments. In Experiment 1, electrophysiological activity (EEG) was recorded from 28 participants. Participants performed an empathy task in which targets for empathy were depicted in contexts for which participants either did or did not have an AM, followed by a task that explicitly required memory retrieval of the AM and non-AM contexts. The retrieval task was implemented to extract the neural fingerprints of AM and non-AM contexts, which were then used to probe data from the empathy task. An EEG pattern classifier was trained and tested across tasks and showed evidence for AM reactivation when participants were preparing their judgement in the empathy task. Participants self-reported higher empathy for people depicted in situations they had experienced themselves as compared to situations they had not experienced. A second independent fMRI experiment replicated this behavioural finding and showed increased activation for AM compared to non-AM in the brain networks underlying empathy: precuneus, posterior parietal cortex, superior and inferior parietal lobule, and superior frontal gyrus. Together, our study reports behavioural, electrophysiological, and fMRI evidence that robustly supports AM reactivation in empathy.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by the European Union's Horizon 2020, MSCA-IF-2015 (Nº702530), and by the ESRC (NºES/S001964/1) awarded to F.M. S.H. is supported by grants from the ERC (Nº647954), the ESRC (NºES/R010072/1), and the Wolfson Society and Royal Society.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hanslmayr, Professor Simon
Authors: Meconi, F., Linde-Domingo, J., Ferreira, C. S., Michelmann, S., Staresina, B., Apperly, I. A., and Hanslmayr, S.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Human Brain Mapping
ISSN (Online):1097-0193
Published Online:14 June 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Authors
First Published:First published in Human Brain Mapping 42(14): 4448-4464
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
313261Neural oscillations - a code for memorySimon HanslmayrEuropean Commission (EC)N/ANP - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi)
314597TIME - GLUING CROSS-MODAL MEMORIES VIA SYNCHRONISATIONSimon HanslmayrEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/R010072/2NP - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi)