The Neuroscience of Empathizing With Another Person’s Pain

Perceiving and Empathizing With Others’ Pain Is a Cognitive Process 

This week, a groundbreaking study was published which found that the ability to empathize with another person’s pain is rooted in cognitive neural processes that differ from the sensory processes used to perceive and experience one’s own pain.


The June 2016 study, “Somatic and Vicarious Pain are Represented by Dissociable Multivariate Brain Patterns,” by researchers at University of Colorado, Boulder, was published in the journal eLife.


Previous research on empathy has suggested that the same brain regions which allow someone to feel pain in his or her own body activate brain responses necessary to vicariously experience the pain of others. However, the latest research shows that empathizing with another person’s pain involves different neural circuitry than experiencing pain oneself. …


“The research suggests that empathy is a deliberative process that requires taking another person’s perspective rather than being an instinctive, automatic process,” Tor Wager, senior author of the study and director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at CU-Boulder said in a statement.