The format will be two 20 minute presentations on topics related to social neuroscience and social psychology with some time for discussion. Our speakers will be Dr Michel-Pierre Coll and Dr Matthias Schurz (see abstracts below).
Michel-Pierre Coll: Are we really measuring empathy?
Empathy – currently defined as the sharing of another’s affective state – has been the focus of much psychological and neuroscientific research in the last decade, much of which has been focused on ascertaining the empathic ability of individuals with various clinical conditions. However, this work tends to overlook the fact that empathy is the result of a complex process requiring a number of intermediate processing steps. It is therefore the case that describing an individual or group as ‘lacking empathy’ lacks specificity. In this talk based on a recent theoretical paper (Coll et al., 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763417304852?via%3Dihub), I will argue for an alternative measurement framework, in which the empathic response is explained in terms of individual differences in the ability to identify another’s emotional state (‘emotion identification’), and the degree to which identification of another’s state causes a corresponding state in the self (‘affect sharing’). The utility of this approach will be illustrated with reference to examples from both cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology.
Matthias Schurz: Representing others’ mental states: A meta-analytic deconstruction of Empathy and Theory of Mind Brain Networks
This talk presents a series of meta-analyses of brain imaging studies of Empathy and Theory of Mind (ToM). First, a neuroimaging meta-analysis on the construct Theory of Mind was carried out (Schurz et al., 2014), sorting ToM tasks into 6 different groups and finding substantial differences between associated brain activation patterns. Second, a novel meta-analysis on the construct Empathy was carried out, sorting tasks into 5 different groups, and again observing clearly distinct brain networks (Schurz et al., in preparation). Finally, similarity of brain activation patterns for all 11 task groups was estimated with image correlation analysis, and hierarchical agglomerative clustering was carried out to identify the interrelation and independence of neural networks linked to the constructs of Empathy and Theory of Mind. Clustering shows three main types of activation networks found for the 11 tasks, with two clusters containing both tasks from the domains Empathy and Theory of Mind. Links between the three networks and brain architecture were studied by (i) comparing the observed networks to large-scale resting-state networks (Yeo et al., 2011) and (ii) mapping the networks along a principal gradient of large-scale cortical organization (Margulies et al., 2016).