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Empathy Of Pain In Spinal Cord Injury

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In order to assess the hypothesis that changes in one’s own sensorimotor system might also influence higher-level embodied cognition that are thought to rely on simulation of sensorimotor processes of other people (e.g. empathy) we tested 15 paraplegic patients, 15 therapists working with paraplegic patients, and 15 healthy subjects with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) [Davis, M.H. (1996). Empathy: A Social Psychological Approach (Boulder, CO: Westview Press]. Paraplegic patients scored significantly lower on both cognitive and emotional empathy subscales of the IRI with respect to healthy and therapist subjects, keeping with the notion that cognitive empathy may shape sensorimotor resonance [Avenanti, A.,e tal.. (2009). The pain of a model in the personality of an onlooker: Influence of statereactivity and personality traits on embodied empathy for pain. Neuroimage 44, 275–283]. The above-mentioned pre-experiments suggest surprisingly low empathy scores in paraplegic patients, which is naturally of great importance for social interactions and can lead to important consequences in the daily lives of paraplegic patients. Based on previous literature [Avenanti, A.,et al.. (2009). The pain of a model in the personality of an onlooker: Influence of state-reactivity and personality traits on embodied empathy for pain. Neuroimage 44, 275–283] it can be hypothesized that these findings are due to a lack of mental simulation of another persons’ action and emotion, based on changes in their sensorimotor system.
To test this hypothesis and shed a light on the underlying mechanisms we designed an fMRI
experiment on empathy of pain.

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