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Neural mechanisms of costly helping in the general population and mirror-pain synesthetes

Research group Gazzola
Publication year 2024
Published in Scientific Reports
Authors Kalliopi Ioumpa, Selene Gallo, Christian Keysers, Valeria Gazzola

It has been argued that experiencing the pain of others motivates helping. Here, we investigate the contribution of somatic feelings while witnessing the pain of others onto costly helping decisions, by contrasting the choices and brain activity of participants that report feeling somatic feelings (self-reported mirror-pain synesthetes) against those that do not. Participants in fMRI witnessed a confederate receiving pain stimulations whose intensity they could reduce by donating money. The pain intensity could be inferred either from the facial expressions of the confederate in pain (Face condition) or from the kinematics of the pain-receiving hand (Hand condition). Our results show that self-reported mirror-pain synesthetes increase their donation more steeply, as the intensity of the observed pain increases, and their somatosensory brain activity (SII and the adjacent IPL) was more tightly associated with donation in the Hand condition. For all participants, activation in insula, SII, TPJ, pSTS, amygdala and MCC correlated with the trial by trial donation made in the Face condition, while SI and MTG activation was correlated with the donation in the Hand condition. These results further inform us about the role of somatic feelings while witnessing the pain of others in situations of costly helping.

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