The present study investigated the relationship between three different measures related to the affective empathy: facial expression detection in response to different emotional patterns (positive vs. negative), personal response to empathic scale [Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES)], and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) contribution to mediate the facial detection task. Nineteen subjects took part in the study and they were required to recognize facial expression of emotions, after having empathized with these emotional cues. Repeated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) method was used in the present research in order to produce a temporary virtual disruption of dMPFC activity. dMPFC disruption induced a worse performance, especially in response to negative expressions (i.e. anger and fear). High-BEES subjects paid a higher cost after frontal brain perturbation: they showed to be unable to correctly detect facial expressions more than low-BEES. Moreover, a “negative valence effect” was observed only for high-BEES, and it was probably related with their higher impairment to recognize negative more than positive expressions. dMPFC was found to support emotional facial expression recognition in an empathic condition, with a specific increased responsiveness for negative-valenced faces. The contribution of this research was discussed to explain the mechanisms underlying affective empathy based on rTMS application.
- Facial expression
- Trait empathy