We try to decipher the brain circuitry that makes us empathic.
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:
Read more about our research in Christian Keysers’s book The Empathic Brain.
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.
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.
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.
The social brain lab is equipped to integrate research in humans and rodents. For this purpose it has the following equipment.
- 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
- housing facilities for mice and rats
- 64Ch Neuralynx Electrophysiology system for freely moving rodents with silicon probes or tetrodes
- Neurolabware two-photon laser scanning microscope with Phenosys VR system
- DM2 fascilities for viral transfections
- Ethovision system for behavioral analysis
- 40 Core, 2TB RAM shared ram supercomputer
Neural mechanisms necessary for empathy-related phenomena across species Current Opinion in Neurobiology 68 (2021) 107-115 Download