The effect of tDCS over the right temporo-parietal junction on pain empathy
Empathy is a complex psychological phenomenon crucial for social perception and interactions. Several lines of evidence suggest that the right temporo-parietal junction is involved in self-other control mechanisms that play an important role in empathic responses. However, limited direct evidence of the involvement of this region in empathic responses is currently available. In this study, inhibitory transcranial direct current stimulation over this region influenced empathic responses to others' pain. It was found that compared to participants that received anodal or sham transcranial direct current stimulation, participants who received cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation over the right temporo-parietal junction perceived the pain of others as less intense compared to sham stimulation and showed decreased late event related potentials to facial expressions of pain. Furthermore, it was found the stimulation had no significant effect on measures of sensorimotor resonance and physiological responses to pain in others. Our results demonstrate that the right temporo-parietal junction plays a role in empathic responses and that its inhibition can decrease behavioural and cerebral measures related to the cognitive-evaluative component of empathy. It is proposed that the right temporo-parietal junction is a valid stimulation target to study the influence of self-other control in empathic processes and could be useful to study the involvement of this region observed in clinical conditions characterized by altered empathic responses.