In everyday life, we need to understand people's emotion and intention to have an efficient communication and social interaction. The ability to understand others' emotion refers to empathy that can further be classified to affective and cognitive facet. The former one involves the ability to share emotional experience while the latter one involves the ability to infer emotional states and intentions.
Extant literature suggests that patients with bipolar disorder exhibit impairment in cognitive empathy, but findings on affective empathy are inconsistent. It also remains unclear for the underlying neural mechanisms of cognitive and affective empathy in patients with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Raymond Chan from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has worked with local and international collaborators to examine the empathy-related resting-state functional connectivity in patients with bipolar disorder.
They recruited 37 patients with bipolar disorder and 42 healthy controls to undertake the resting-state brain scans. Moreover, all the participants also completed the self-report Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE) and the computer-based test of empathy after the brain scans.
Their findings showed that patients with bipolar disorder reported lower on the Online Simulation subscale of the QCAE and showed positive correlations between cognitive empathy and the resting-state functional connectivity of the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex with the lingual gyrus.
They also found that the correlations between cognitive empathy and the resting-state functional connectivity of the temporal parietal junction with the parahippocampus, the fusiform gyrus and the cerebellum were weaker in patients with bipolar disorder than that in controls.
These findings highlight the underlying neural mechanisms of empathy impairments in patients with bipolar disorder and may provide useful guideline for us to develop future non-pharmaceutical intervention for empathy impairment in this clinical group
This study was supported by grants from the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission Grant, the Beijing Training Project for the Leading Talents in Science and Technology, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology.
This study is now published online in European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience on July 19.
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