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Investigating the functional anatomy of empathy and forgiveness

Farrow, Tom F. D.CA; Zheng, Ying; Wilkinson, Iain D.1; Spence, Sean A.; Deakin, J. F. William2; Tarrier, Nick3; Griffiths, Paul D.1; Woodruff, Peter W. R.


Previous functional brain imaging studies suggest that the ability to infer the intentions and mental states of others (social cognition) is mediated by medial prefrontal cortex. Little is known about the anatomy of empathy and forgiveness. We used functional MRI to detect brain regions engaged by judging others’ emotional states and the forgivability of their crimes. Ten volunteers read and made judgements based on social scenarios and a high level baseline task (social reasoning). Both empathic and forgivability judgements activated left superior frontal gyrus, orbitofrontal gyrus and precuneus. Empathic judgements also activated left anterior middle temporal and left inferior frontal gyri, while forgivability judgements activated posterior cingulate gyrus. Empathic and forgivability judgements activate specific regions of the human brain, which we propose contribute to social cohesion.

Departments of Psychiatry (SCANLab) and 1Radiology, University of Sheffield, The Longley Centre, Northern General Hospital, Norwood Grange Drive, Sheffield, S5 7JT; 2Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit and 3Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Manchester, UK

CACorresponding Author

Received 16 May 2001; accepted 28 May 2001

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.