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Going all emotional about it, or do you reason? Study shows your brain can tell!

Who knew that some grey stuff inside your skull could reveal whether you are more of a thinker than a feeler? With a study from the Monash University, researchers have now found a correlation between the density of grey matter and its placement, and what type of empathy a person is more prone to.

The test was done looking for two types of empathy; cognitive and affective empathy. The first kind are people like clinical psychologists, where the second type are people who get quite emotional and start crying when watching a sad movie, for example.

Using an examination method called voxel-based morphometry, or VBM, the team of researchers looked at the density of grey matter in 176 participants. They examined whether it was possible or not to predict test scores rating their different types of empathy levels.

Coming out the other end of the testing period, it was clear that the affective empathy people had a more dense area of grey matter in the middle of the brain, in the insula, where the persons who scored higher for the cognitive type of empathy rather showed more density in the area that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, also called the midcingulate cortex.

With numerous questions arising from this evidence, such as matters of rehabilitation possibilities for people with brain damage, Robert Eres explains the situation further: “In the future we want to investigate causation by testing whether training people on empathy related tasks can lead to changes in these brain structures and investigate if damage to these brain structures, as a result of a stroke for example, can lead to empathy impairments”.

Empathy of both kinds are used daily between people in our society, and has a great impact on everything from how we treat our customers or co-workers, to how we function as families. People with a criminal history might find new opportunities for recovering empatic abilities, also meaning a new take on what caused the problems from the beginning for these individuals. Questions such as, “it possible to lose some of your empathic view on others if you don’t use this ability very often?” will be easier to answer with further studies in this area.

The team performing the study concluded: “Taken together, these results provide validation for empathy being a multi-component construct, suggesting that affective and cognitive empathy are differentially represented in brain morphometry as well as providing convergent evidence for empathy being represented by different neural and structural correlates.”

The study was led by Robert Eres, from the Monash University’s School of Physchological Sciences, and was published in the journal NeuroImage.

Image: Allan Ajifo

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