Empathy is the ability to identify with or make a vicariously experience of another person’s feelings or thoughts based on memory and/or self-referential mental simulation. The default mode network in particular is related to self-referential empathy. In order to elucidate the possible neural mechanisms underlying empathy, we investigated the functional connectivity of the default mode network in subjects from a general population. Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired from 19 low-empathy subjects and 18 medium-empathy subjects. An independent component analysis was used to identify the default mode network, and differences in functional connectivity strength were compared between the two groups. The low-empathy group showed lower functional connectivity of the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (Brodmann areas 9 and 32) within the default mode network, compared to the medium-empathy group. The results of the present study suggest that empathy is related to functional connectivity of the medial prefrontal cortex/anterior cingulate cortex within the default mode network. Functional decreases in connectivity among low-empathy subjects may reflect an impairment of self-referential mental simulation.
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