Neural functional correlates of empathic face processing

Neurosci Lett. 2017 Aug 10:655:68-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2017.06.058. Epub 2017 Jul 1.


Objectives: Empathy is a human trait related to the ability to share someone else's feelings, and emotional face processing is one of its measures. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies showed significant neural correlates of empathic face processing. We aimed to identify those brain areas most consistently involved in empathy for emotional faces.

Methods: We carried ALE meta-analysis of whole-brain data from fMRI studies during empathic face-processing tasks. We included 23 studies conducted on a total of 568 participants (247 males and 321 females, mean age 32.2 years).

Results: Emotional vs. control faces processing significantly correlated with activations of the left anterior cingulate cortex (BA 32), right precentral gyrus (BA 6), left amygdala, right superior frontal gyrus (BA 9), left middle occipital gyrus (BA 37), right insula (BA 13), left putamen, and left posterior cingulate cortex (BA 31).

Conclusions: Empathy is a complex process correlating with bi-hemispheric cortico-limbic activations involved in emotional cue processing, self-other/same-different discrimination, perspective-taking, theory of mind, emotional arousal, and decision-making.

Keywords: ALE meta-analysis; Emotional face processing; Empathy; Functional neuroimaging; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Empathy*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging