Empathy is an essential ability for prosocial behavior. Previous imaging studies identified a number of brain regions implicated in affective and cognitive aspects of empathy. In this study, we investigated the neural correlates of empathy from a network perspective using graph theory and beta-series correlations. Two independent data sets were acquired using the same paradigm that elicited empathic responses to socio-affective stimuli. One data set was used to define the network nodes and modular structure, the other data set was used to investigate the effects of emotional versus neutral stimuli on network connectivity. Emotional relative to neutral stimuli increased connectivity between 74 nodes belonging to different networks. Most of these nodes belonged to an extended default mode network (eDMN). The other nodes belonged to a cognitive control network or visual networks. Within the eDMN, posterior STG/TPJ regions were identified as provincial hubs. The eDMN also showed stronger connectivity to the cognitive control network encompassing lateral PFC regions. Connector hubs between the two networks were posterior cingulate cortex and ventrolateral PFC. This stresses the advantage of a network approach as regions similarly modulated by task conditions can be dissociated into distinct networks and regions crucial for network integration can be identified.
Keywords: Beta-series; Empathy; Functional connectivity; Graph analysis; fMRI.
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