fbpx
Menu

Gazzola Group Keysers Group

Male and female rats are similarly sensitive to the emotions of others

In humans, we are used to believe that females are more empathic than males. Exploring sex differences in animal models has been identified as an urgent need in animal research. Using a paradigm in which a rat witnesses another in distress, the groups of Christian Keysers and Valeria Gazzola measured how sensitive male and female rats were to the distress of a conspecific of the same sex.

In a paper published in Scientific Report, they show that female and male rats actually demonstrated the same level of sensitivity to the distress of others. More specifically, female rats showed less freezing than male rats when they are in distress, but female observers witnessing a female rat showing X% freezing froze as much as a male rat observing a male showing X% freezing. This finding challenges the notion that sensitivity to the distress of others derives from maternal care mechanisms, and supports a more general function for emotional contagion in social animals.

 

Share

Gazzola Group

When we see a little girl falling from her bike, why do most of us instinctively run to help and comfort her?

Years of research show that one of the reasons why we help other people is because their suffering activates brain regions that are also active when we ourselves are hurt. The pain of the child with her bleeding knee becomes our own pain. Helping the girl now becomes a way to sooth what is now our pain. A similar contagion happens for other emotions as well: we rejoice with our friend when we watch her crossing the finish line of her first marathon.
In some circumstances the decision to help is less readily made, but requires a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of the action we decide to take. For instance, if you are late for an important job interview, and you see the mother also running toward the child, you might decide to keep on going instead. This is because you have quickly calculated the benefits for the other against the costs for yourself, and found that the costs of helping (high probability of not getting the coveted new job) in this case are higher than the benefits to the other (comforting a child you do not know while her mom will soon arrive).

Some of the core questions my lab currently investigates are: What areas of the brain cause us to act prosocially? How does the brain weigh the benefits to self and the cost to others? How do we learn the consequences our actions have on others? When we hit someone he will likely be in pain. How does this make us learn that hitting people is bad? Why do psychopathic individuals fail to acquire these moral sentiments? Does the activation of our own pain brain regions while witnessing the other wince in pain play a critical role in that learning?

In order to answer these questions, we synergize brain imaging tools such as 3T and 7T fMRI and EEG, and neuro-modulation tools, such as TMS and tDCS.

 

 

Social Brain Lab

Befitting our interest in social cognition, my lab and that of Christian Keysers create a joint, strongly collaborative cluster of expertise on the neural basis of social cognition that we call the Social Brain Lab.

STUDENT PROJECTS

If you are interested in applying for an internship in the Social Brain Lab please follow the instructions in this document. This also applies to literature thesis projects.

Funding

The Gazzola lab is generously financed by the Dutch Science Foundation’s Innovational Research Incentives Scheme (VIDI), the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the European Research Council Start Up Grant, the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología of Mexico.

 

Read more

Keysers Group

While we watch a movie, we share the experiences of the actors we observe: our heart for instance starts beating faster while we see an actor slip from the roof of a tall building. Why?

Specific brain areas are involved when we perform certain actions or have certain emotions or sensations. Interestingly, some of these areas are also recruited when we simply observe someone else performing similar actions, having similar sensations or having similar emotions. These areas called ‘shared circuits’ transform what we see into what we would have done or felt in the same situation. With such brain areas, understanding other people is not an effort of explicit thought but becomes an intuitive sharing of their emotions, sensations and actions.

Christian Keysers‘ lab focuses on providing increasingly detailed insights into how exactly the brain achieves this remarkable feat of empathy. For this aim, the lab combines powerful methods to non-invasively image brain activity in humans, with an unprecedented ability to record and influence brain activity at neural levels in rodents. You can get an impression for the labs spirit in these short movies:

 

In addition, the lab explores why some people seem to show very reduced empathy, for instance in patient groups that suffer from impairments in social cognition, including autism and psychopathy. You can get an impression for that work from the following episode with Morgan Freeman:

Cover The Empathic Brain

 

Read more about our research in Christian Keysers’s book The Empathic Brain.

Available at Amazon US, EU, UK in English, or as translations into Dutch (Het empathische brein), German (Unser Empathisches Gehirn), Turkish or Japanese.

 

Or what Christian Keysers present the lab at the Marie Curie Action’s 20th Anniversary in Brussels

 

Social Brain Lab

Befitting our interest in social cognition, my lab and that of Valeria Gazzola create a joint, strongly collaborative cluster of expertise on the neural basis of social cognition that we call the Social Brain Lab.

Student projects

If you are interested in applying for an internship in the Social Brain Lab please follow the instructions in this document. This also applies to literature thesis projects.

Top Publications

  • 2022    Cerliani L, Bhandari R, De Angelis L, vdZwaag W, Bazin PL, Gazzola V, Keysers C. Predictive coding during action observation – a depth-resolved intersubject functional correlation study at 7T. Cortex. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2021.12.008.
  • 2021    Paradiso E, Gazzola V, Keysers C. Neural mechanisms necessary for empathy-related phenomena across species. Current Opinions in Neurobiology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2021.02.005.
  • 2020    Hernandez-Lallement J, Attah AT, Soyman E, Pinhal C, Gazzola V*, & Keysers C*. Harm to others acts as a cingulate dependent negative reinforcer in rat. Current Biology. [see online] For a video summary click here:
  • 2020    Han Y, Sichterman B, Carrillo M, Gazzola V, Keysers C. Similar levels of emotional contagion in male and female rats. Sci Rep. 2020; 10: 2763. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-59680-2.
  • 2020    Borja Jimenez KC, Abdelgabar AR, De Angelis L, McKay LS, Keysers C, Gazzola V. Changes in brain activity following the voluntary control of empathy. Neuroimage. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116529
  • 2019    Abdelgabar AR*, Suttrup J*, Broersen R*, Bhandari R*, Picard S, Keysers C*, de Zeeuw C* & Gazzola V*. Action perception recruits the cerebellum and is impaired in patients with spinocerebellar ataxia. Brain : A Journal of Neurology [see online]
  • 2019    Han Y*, Bruls R*, Thomas RM, Pentaraki V, Jelinek N, Heinemans M, …, Gazzola V, Carrillo M, Keysers, C. Bidirectional cingulate-dependent danger information transfer across rats. PLoS Biology, e3000524 [see online]
  • 2019    Carrillo M, Han Y, Migliorati F, Liu M, Gazzola V, Keysers C (2019). Emotional Mirror Neurons in the Rat’s Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Current Biology. [see online] see podcast below
  • 2018    Gallo S, Paracampo R, Müller-Pinzler L, Severo MC, Blömer L, Fernandes-Henriques C, Henschel A, Lammes BK, Maskaljunas T, Suttrup J, Avenanti A, Keysers C, Gazzola V. The causal role of the somatosensory cortex in prosocial behaviour. eLife 7 e32740 [see online]
  • 2016    Zaki J, Wager TD*, Singer T*, Keysers C*, Gazzola, V*. The Anatomy of Suffering: Understanding the relationship between nociceptive and empathic pain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 20, 249-259. [see online]
  • 2015    Cerliani L, Mennes M, Thomas RM, Di Martino A, Thioux M & Keysers C. Increased functional connectivity between subcortical and cortical resting-state networks in autism spectrum disorder. JAMA Psychiatry 72, 767-777. [see online]
  • 2014    Keysers C & Gazzola V. Dissociating the ability and propensity for empathy. Trends Cogn. Sci. 18, 163-166. [see online]
  • 2014    Di Martino A, Yan CG, Li Q, Denio E, Castellanos FX, Alaerts K, Anderson JS, Assaf M, Bookheimer SY, Dapretto M, Deen B, Delmonte S, Dinstein I, Ertl-Wagner B, Fair DA, Gallagher L, Kennedy DP, Keown CL, Keysers C, Lainhart JE, Lord C, Luna B, Menon V, Minshew NJ, Monk CS, Mueller S, Muller RA, Nebel MB, Nigg JT, O’Hearn K, Pelphrey KA, Peltier SJ, Rudie JD, Sunaert S, Thioux M, Tyszka JM, Uddin LQ, Verhoeven JS, Wenderoth N, Wiggins JL, Mostofsky SH & Milham MP. The autism brain imaging data exchange: towards a large-scale evaluation of the intrinsic brain architecture in autism. Mol. Psychiatr. 19, 659-667. [see online]
  • 2013    Meffert H, Gazzola V, den Boer JA, Bartels AAJ & Keysers C. Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain 136, 2550-2562. [see online]
  • 2012    Hasson U, Ghazanfar AA, Galantucci B, Garrod S & Keysers C. Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16, 114-121. [see online]
  • 2012    Gazzola V, Spezio ML, Etzel JA, Castelli F, Adolphs R & Keysers C. Primary somatosensory cortex discriminates affective significance in social touch. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 109, E1657-E1666. [see online]
  • 2012    Cerliani L, Thomas RM, Jbabdi S, Siero JCW, Nanetti L, Crippa A, Gazzola V, D’Arceuil H & Keysers C. Probabilistic tractography recovers a rostrocaudal trajectory of connectivity variability in the human insular cortex. Hum. Brain Mapp. 33, 2005-2034. [see online]
  • 2011    Atsak P, Orre M, Bakker P, Cerliani L, Roozendaal B, Gazzola V, Moita M & Keysers C. Experience Modulates Vicarious Freezing in Rats: A Model for Empathy. PLoS One 6 [see online]
  • 2011    Arnstein D, Cui F, Keysers C, Maurits NM & Gazzola V. mu-Suppression during Action Observation and Execution Correlates with BOLD in Dorsal Premotor, Inferior Parietal, and SI Cortices. J. Neurosci. 31, 14243-14249. [see online]
  • 2010    Schippers MB, Roebroeck A, Renken R, Nanetti L & Keysers C. Mapping the information flow from one brain to another during gestural communication. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 107, 9388-9393. [see online]
  • 2010    Keysers C, Kaas JH & Gazzola V. Somatosensation in social perception. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 11, 417-428. [see online]
  • 2009    Keysers C & Gazzola V. Expanding the mirror: vicarious activity for actions, emotions, and sensations. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 19, 666-671. [see online]
  • 2009    Keysers C. Mirror neurons. Curr. Biol.19, R971-R973
  • 2009    Gazzola V & Keysers C. The Observation and Execution of Actions Share Motor and Somatosensory Voxels in all Tested Subjects: Single-Subject Analyses of Unsmoothed fMRI Data. Cereb. Cortex 19, 1239-1255
  • 2009    Bastiaansen J, Thioux M & Keysers C. Evidence for mirror systems in emotions. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B-Biol. Sci. 364, 2391-2404
  • 2007    Jabbi M, Swart M & Keysers C. Empathy for positive and negative emotions in the gustatory cortex. Neuroimage34 1744-1753
  • 2007    Gazzola V, van der Worp H, Mulder T, Wicker B, Rizzolatti G & Keysers C. Aplasics born without hands mirror the goal of hand actions with their feet. Curr. Biol. 17, 1235-1240
  • 2007    Gazzola V, Rizzolatti G, Wicker B & Keysers C. The anthropomorphic brain: The mirror neuron system responds to human and robotic actions. Neuroimage 35, 1674-1684
  • 2006    Keysers C & Gazzola V Towards a unifying neural theory of social cognition. Understanding Emotions 379-401
  • 2006    Gazzola V, Aziz-Zadeh L & Keysers C. Empathy and the somatotopic auditory mirror system in humans. Curr. Biol. 16, 1824-1829
  • 2004    Keysers C, Wicker B, Gazzola V, Anton JL, Fogassi L & Gallese V. A touching sight: SII/PV activation during the observation and experience of touch. Neuron 42, 335-346
  • 2004    Keysers C & Perrett DI. Demystifying social cognition: a Hebbian perspective. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 501-507
  • 2004    Gallese V, Keysers C & Rizzolatti G. A unifying view of the basis of social cognition. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 396-403
  • 2003    Wicker B, Keysers C, Plailly J, Royet JP, Gallese V & Rizzolatti G. Both of us disgusted in My Insula: The common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust. Neuron 40, 655-664
  • 2002    Kohler E, Keysers C, Umilta MA, Fogassi L, Gallese V & Rizzolatti G. Hearing sounds, understanding actions: Action representation in mirror neurons. Science 297, 846-848
  • 2001    Umilta MA, Kohler E, Gallese V, Fogassi L, Fadiga L, Keysers C & Rizzolatti G. I know what you are doing: A neurophysiological study. Neuron 31, 155-165

 

Funding

ERC European Commission FP7

NWOMarieCurie

The Keysers lab studies fundamental issues in social neuroscience. To do so, we are entirely dependent on public funding. We are enormously thankful to the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) and the European Commission for being dedicated patrons of such frontier science. Without the Talent Scheme of NWO that has supported our work through VENI, VIDI and VICI grants, and without the European Commission that has supported us through the ERC and several Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, we would have been unable to tackle the mysteries of our social nature. In addition, the Dutch Government has helped us deeply through the  National Initiative for Brain and Cognition.

FACILITIES

The social brain lab is equipped to integrate research in humans and rodents. For this purpose it has the following equipment.

HUMAN RESEARCH:

Human Equipment at SBL
Human Equipment at SBL
  • 3T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away, click here for details)
  • 7T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away, click here for details)
  • 130Ch ActiChamp EEG system (that can be split in two 64Ch systems for hyperscanning)
  • Magstim Rapid TMS system with neuronavigation
  • 8Ch Soterix tDCS system

RODENT RESEARCH

  • housing facilities for mice and rats
  • 64Ch Neuralynx Electrophysiology system for freely moving rodents with silicon probes or tetrodes
  • Dual Neuropixel recording
  • Neurolabware two-photon laser scanning microscope
  • DM2 fascilities for viral transfections
  • Ethovision system for behavioral analysis

DATA ANALYSIS

  • 40 Core, 2TB RAM shared ram supercomputer

Read more