2021-11-23Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/24546
Increased activation in the bilateral anterior insulae in response to others in pain in mothers compared to non-mothers
Empathy allows us to share emotions and encourages us to help others. It is especially important in the context of parenting where children’s wellbeing is dependent on their parents’ understanding and fulfilment of their needs. To date, little is known about differences in empathy responses of parents and non-parents. Using stimuli depicting adults and children in pain, this study focuses on the interaction of motherhood and neural responses in areas associated with empathy. Mothers showed higher activation to both adults and children in pain in the bilateral anterior insulae, key regions of empathy for pain. Additionally, mothers more strongly activated the inferior frontal, superior temporal and the medial superior frontal gyrus. Differences between adult and child stimuli were only found in occipital areas in both mothers and non-mothers. Our results suggest a stronger neural response to others in pain in mothers than non-mothers regardless of whether the person is a child or an adult. This could indicate a possible influence of motherhood on overall neural responses to others in pain rather than motherhood specifically shaping child-related responses. Alternatively, stronger responses to others in pain could increase the likelihood for women to be in a relationship and subsequently to have a child.
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This article was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Open Access Publication Fund of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.