A Caltech Library Service

Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others

Singer, Tania and Seymour, Ben and O'Doherty, John P. and Stephan, Klaas E. and Dolan, Raymond J. and Frith, Chris D. (2006) Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature, 439 (7075). pp. 466-469. ISSN 0028-0836. PMCID PMC2636868. doi:10.1038/nature04271.

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF (Supplementary Methods section containing information about sample, experimental procedure, image acquisition and analysis) - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF (upplementary Tables 1–11. Supplementary Table 1 shows relevant descriptive statistics of sample, pain intensity and subjective ratings. Supplementary Tables 2–11 display brain coordinates and z-scores for all relevant brain analyses) - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF (Supplementary Figures 1–4 depicting the experimental procedure, correlations between empathy scores and brain activation in ACC and AI, mean level differences of the three revenge scales as a function of gender and their inter correlations and correlation) - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The neural processes underlying empathy are a subject of intense interest within the social neurosciences. However, very little is known about how brain empathic responses are modulated by the affective link between individuals. We show here that empathic responses are modulated by learned preferences, a result consistent with economic models of social preferences. We engaged male and female volunteers in an economic game, in which two confederates played fairly or unfairly, and then measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while these same volunteers observed the confederates receiving pain. Both sexes exhibited empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas (fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortices) towards fair players. However, these empathy-related responses were significantly reduced in males when observing an unfair person receiving pain. This effect was accompanied by increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge. We conclude that in men (at least) empathic responses are shaped by valuation of other people's social behaviour, such that they empathize with fair opponents while favouring the physical punishment of unfair opponents, a finding that echoes recent evidence for altruistic punishment.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ItemSupplementary Information ReadCube access CentralArticle
Singer, Tania0000-0002-4438-5374
O'Doherty, John P.0000-0003-0016-3531
Dolan, Raymond J.0000-0001-9356-761X
Additional Information:© 2006 Nature Publishing Group. Received 15 June 2005; Accepted 30 September 2005; Published online 18 January 2006. We thank P. Aston, S. Kiebel and E. Featherstone for their help. This work was supported by the German Academy of Natural Sciences Leopoldina, Halle, from the Ministry of Education and Science, by the Medical Research Council (UK), and by Wellcome Trust Programme Grants to R.J.D. and C.D.F.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
German Academy of Natural Sciences LeopoldinaUNSPECIFIED
Ministry of Education and Science (UK)UNSPECIFIED
Medical Research Council (UK)UNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:7075
PubMed Central ID:PMC2636868
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150403-102451898
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:56343
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:03 Apr 2015 19:12
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 20:58

Repository Staff Only: item control page