Empathy Is ‘Hard-Wired’ in Children’s Brains

Empathy Is ‘Hard-Wired’ in Children’s Brains

July 16, 2008

WEDNESDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) — Empathy comes naturally to
children, a new report shows.

Using functional MRI scans on normal kids aged 7 to 12, researchers
found the parts of the children’s brains that were activated when shown
pictures of people in pain, according to findings published in the current
issue of Neuropsychologia.

Study author Jean Decety, a professor in the departments of Psychology
and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, reported that empathy appears
to be "hard-wired" into the brains of normal children, as opposed to being
solely the result of parental guidance or nurturing.

"Consistent with previous functional MRI studies of pain empathy with
adults, the perception of other people in pain in children was associated
with increased hemodymamic activity in the neural circuits involved in the
processing of firsthand experience of pain…," Decety wrote.

Knowing how the brain responds to pain may help scientists understand
the relationship between brain impairments and anti-social behavior, such
as bullying, he said in a University of Chicago news release.

Follow-up interviews with the participants showed they perceived
wrongdoing in the animations where someone was hurt. "Although our study
did not tap into explicit moral judgment, perceiving an individual
intentionally harming another person is likely to elicit the awareness of
moral wrongdoing in the observer," Decety wrote.

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