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Keywords:

  • admiration;
  • compassion;
  • social cognition;
  • self-processing;
  • insula

Abstract

Inducing and experiencing emotions about others' mental and physical circumstances is thought to involve self-relevant processing and personal memories of similar experiences. The hippocampus is important for self-referential processing during recall and prospection; however, its contributions during social emotions have not been systematically investigated. We use event-related averaging and Granger causal connectivity mapping to investigate hippocampal contributions during the processing of varieties of admiration and compassion pertaining to protagonists' mental versus physical circumstances [admiration for virtue (AV) versus for skill; compassion for social/psychological pain (CSP) versus for physical pain]. Data were collected using a multistep emotion-induction paradigm that included psychosocial interviews, BOLD fMRI, and simultaneous psychophysiological recording. Given that mnemonic demands were equivalent among conditions, we tested whether: (1) the hippocampi would be recruited more strongly and for a longer duration during the processing of AV and CSP; and (2) connectivity between the hippocampi and cortical systems involved in visceral somatosensation/emotional feeling, social cognitive, and self-related processing would be more extensive during AV and CSP. Results elucidate the hippocampus' facilitative role in inducing and sustaining appropriate emotional reactions, the importance of self-related processing during social emotions, and corroborate the conception that varieties of emotional processing pertaining to others' mental and physical situations engage at least partially distinct neural mechanisms. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.