Editor's Summary

26 January 2006

I feel your pain


Humans have the capacity to empathize with the pain of others, but we don't empathize in all circumstances. An experiment on human volunteers playing an economic game looked at the conditional nature of our sympathy, and the results show that fairness of social interactions is key to the empathic neural response. Both men and women empathized with the pain of cooperative people. But if people are selfish, empathic responses were absent, at least in men. And it seems that physical harm might even be considered a good outcome — perhaps the first neuroscientific evidence for schadenfreude.

LetterEmpathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others

Tania Singer, Ben Seymour, John P. O'Doherty, Klaas E. Stephan, Raymond J. Dolan & Chris D. Frith

doi:10.1038/nature04271