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Effects of early adversity and social discrimination on empathy for complex mental states: An fMRI investigation

Fourie, M.M
Stein, D.J
Solms, M
Gobodo-Madikizela, P
Decety, J
There is extensive evidence of an association between early adversity and enduring neural changes that impact socioemotional processing throughout life. Yet little is known about the effects of on-going social discrimination on socioemotional functioning. Here we examined how cumulative experiences of social discrimination impact brain response during empathic responding—a crucial issue in South Africa, given its historical apartheid context and continuing legacies. White and Black South Africans completed measures of social adversity (early adversity and social discrimination), and underwent fMRI while viewing video clips depicting victims and perpetrators of apartheid crimes. Increased neural response was detected in brain regions associated with cognitive rather than affective empathy, and greater social adversity was associated with reduced reported compassion across participants. Notably, social discrimination (due to income level, weight, gender) in White participants was associated with increased amygdala reactivity, whereas social discrimination (due to race) in Black participants mediated the negative associations of temporoparietal junction and inferior frontal gyrus activation with compassion during emotionally provocative conditions. These findings suggest that (i) social discrimination has comparable associations at the neural level as other psychosocial stressors, and that (ii) the mechanisms underlying empathic responding vary as a function of the type of social discrimination experienced.
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Springer Nature
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Social discrimination,Mental health,Complex mental state
Fourie MM, Stein DJ, Solms M, Gobodo-Madikizela P, Decety J. Effects of early adversity and social discrimination on empathy for complex mental states: An fMRI investigation. Scientific Reports. 2019 Sep 10;9(1):12959. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-49298-4
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