This strikes me as pretty worthless, yet possibly dangerous report of
research, highly puffed up. Based on a tiny number of subjects, the
report is filled with interpretations and definitions that are taken to
be true with little argument. In prior experiments a region of the brain
was connected with emotions. Now that region is only lit up some of the
time, i.e. when people might be expected to have strong feelings, and
not when they can be expected to be confused by the message they
receive. What has been learned? What has been learned that couldn't have
just as well been learned by simply asking the subjects how they
reacted? Worse, based on this puffery, will police scientists now feel
justified in using such methods to determine whether someone is a
sociopath? If some expected section of your brain doesn't light up on a
PET scan when confronted with a certain video, are you now to be deemed
a likely criminal?
"José F. Morales" wrote:
> University of Washington
> The Website for Decety's lab is http://adam.cmbl.washington.eduSearch
> for sympathy uncovers patterns of brain activity
> Neuroscientists trying to tease out the mechanisms underlying the
> basis of human sympathy have found that such feelings trigger brain
> activity not only in areas associated with emotion but also in areas
> associated with performing an action. But, when people act in socially
> inappropriate ways this activity is replaced by increased activity in
> regions associated with social conflict.
> Understanding the neurophysiology of such basic human characteristics
> as sympathy is important because some people lack those feelings and
> may behave in anti-social ways that can be extremely costly to
> society, said Dr. Jean Decety of the University of Washington. Decety
> heads the social-cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the UW's Center
> for Mind, Brain & Learning and is lead author of a new study that
> appears in a just-published special issue of the journal
> In the study, Decety and doctoral student Thierry Chaminade used
> positron emission tomography (PET) scans to explore what brain systems
> were activated while people watched videos of actors telling stories
> that were either sad or neutral in tone. The neutral stories were
> based on everyday activities such as cooking and shopping. The sad
> stories described events that could have happened to anyone, such as a
> drowning accident or the illness of a close relative. The actors were
> videotaped telling the stories, which lasted one to two minutes, with
> three different expressions - neutral, happy or sad.
> Decety and Chaminade found that, as people watched the videos,
> different brain regions were activated depending on whether an actor's
> expressions matched the emotional content of the story.
> When the story content and expression were congruent, neural activity
> increased in emotional processing areas of the brain - the amygdala
> and the adjacent orbitofrontal cortex and the insula. In addition,
> increased activation also was noted in what neuroscientists call the
> "shared representational" network which includes the right inferior
> parietal cortex and premotor cortex. This network refers to brain
> areas that are activated when a person has a mental image of
> performing an action, actually performs that action or observes
> someone else performing it.
> However, these emotional processing areas were suppressed when the
> story content and expression were mismatched, such as by having a
> person smile while telling about his mother's death. Instead,
> activation was centered in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and
> superior frontal gyrus, regions that deal with social conflict.
> After watching each video clip, the 12 subjects in the study also were
> asked to rate the storyteller's mood and likability. Not surprisingly
> the subjects found the storytellers more likable and felt more
> sympathetic toward them when their emotional expression matched a
> story's content than when it did not.
> "Sympathy is a very basic way in which we are connected to other
> people," said Decety. "We feel more sympathy if the person we are
> interacting with is more like us. When people act in strange ways, you
> feel that person is not like you.
> "It is important to note that the emotional processing network of the
> brain was not activated when the subjects in our study watched what we
> would consider to be inappropriate social behavior. Knowing how the
> brain typically functions in people when they are sympathetic will
> lead to a better understanding of why some individuals lack sympathy."
> ###The research was funded by France's Institut de la Santé et de la
> Recherche Médicale, the Talaris Research Institute and the Apex
> Foundation, the family foundation created by Bruce and Jolene McCaw.
> Jose Morales Ph.D.