The Empathy Mirror

Empathy has been difficult for neuroscientists to analyze because it’s the product of many parts of the brain acting with one another in mysterious ways.

Simon Baron-Cohen, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Oxford, has identified ten separate regions of the brain, each with its own special function, that comprise the “empathy circuit.” One critical part of this circuit is called the medial prefrontal cortex, or MPFC, which plays a role in comparing one’s own perspective to that of others. Other parts of the empathy circuit correlate with social judgments (the orbitofrontal cortex), awareness of the intentions and goals of others (the frontal operculum), recognizing emotion (the inferior frontal gyrus), and processing sensory stimuli (the somatosensory cortex).

But knowing which brain areas are associated with which individual functions still doesn’t present a clear picture of how these areas work, much less interact with one another.