Multi-level comparison of empathy in schizophrenia: an fMRI study of a cartoon task

Psychiatry Res. 2010 Feb 28;181(2):121-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.08.003. Epub 2010 Jan 18.


Empathy deficits might play a role in social dysfunction in schizophrenia. However, few studies have investigated the neuroanatomical underpinnings of the subcomponents of empathy in schizophrenia. This study investigated the hemodynamic responses to three subcomponents of empathy in patients with schizophrenia (N=15) and healthy volunteers (N=18), performing an empathy cartoon task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The experiment used a block design with four conditions: cognitive, emotional, and inhibitory empathy, and physical causality control. Data were analyzed by comparing the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal activation between the two groups. The cognitive empathy condition activated the right temporal pole to a lesser extent in the patient group than in comparison subjects. In the emotional and inhibitory conditions, the patients showed greater activation in the left insula and in the right middle/inferior frontal cortex, respectively. These findings add to our understanding of the impaired empathy in patients with schizophrenia by identifying a multi-level cortical dysfunction that underlies a deficit in each subcomponent of empathy and highlighting the importance of the fronto-temporal cortical network in ability to empathize.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Schizophrenia / complications*
  • Schizophrenia / pathology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen