Maturation of pain empathy from child to adult shifts from single to multiple neural rhythms to support interoceptive representations

Jonathan Levy, Abraham Goldstein, Maayan Pratt, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


While empathy to the pain of conspecific is evolutionary-Ancient and is observed in rodents and in primates, it also integrates higher-order affective representations. Yet, it is unclear whether human empathy for pain is inborn or matures during development and what neural processes underpin its maturation. Using magnetoencephalography, we monitored the brain response of children, adolescents, and adults (n = 209) to others' pain, testing the shift from childhood to adult functioning. Results indicate that children's vicarious empathy for pain operates via rudimentary sensory predictions involving alpha oscillations in somatosensory cortex, while adults' response recruits advanced mechanisms of updating sensory predictions and activating affective empathy in viceromotor cortex via higher-level representations involving beta-And gamma-band activity. Our findings suggest that full-blown empathy to others' pain emerges only in adulthood and involves a shift from sensory selfbased to interoceptive other-focused mechanisms that support human altruism, maintain self-other differentiation, modulate feedback to monitor other's state, and activate a plan of action to alleviate other's suffering.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1810
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was supported by grants from the Fetzer Foundation, Israel-German Foundation (1114-101.4/2010), the Irving B. Harris Foundation, the Simms-Mann Foundations, and by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 51/11). We would like to particularly thank Galit Schneider and Shahar Aberbach for invaluable help in MEG acquisition. We would also like to thank Yuval Harpaz for technical support.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


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