Individualized Prediction of Females' Empathic Concern from Intrinsic Brain Activity within General Network of State Empathy

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2022 Apr;22(2):403-413. doi: 10.3758/s13415-021-00964-z. Epub 2021 Nov 8.


Empathy can be measured based on behavioral tasks and self-report scales, which have been used to characterize the state and trait empathy, respectively, in previous studies. The neural correlates of state empathy have been deeply investigated, whereas the association between trait empathy and brain activity remains unclear. Thus, this study employed multiple variate pattern analysis (MVPA) to explore whether intrinsic brain activity (IBA) within state-empathy-related regions was associated with trait empathy. Meta-analysis of empathy-related fMRI experiments identified a general network underlying state empathy, which is located in the bilateral supplementary motor area (SMA) extending to the middle cingulate cortex (MCC) and left anterior insula (AI) and extending to the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). The subsequent MVPA found that empathic concern can be predicted through the IBA of the general network at the female individual level (i.e., the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations and regional homogeneity). Based on the resting state fMRI (rs-fMRI), these results further support the involvement of SMA/MCC and AI/IFG in empathy. Meanwhile, the significant predictive association between IBA and trait empathy offers new insights into the general component of empathy, which may indicate the potential of using rs-fMRI to achieve the objective measurement of empathic ability.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; Multiple variate pattern analysis; Resting-state fMRI; State empathy; Trait empathy.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods