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This study examined neural activation during the experience of compassion, an emotion that orients people toward vulnerable others and prompts caregiving, and pride, a self-focused emotion that signals individual strength and heightened status. Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) were acquired as participants viewed 55 s continuous sequences of slides to induce either compassion or pride, presented in alternation with sequences of neutral slides. Emotion self-report data were collected after each slide condition within the fMRI scanner. Compassion induction was associated with activation in the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG), a region that is activated during pain and the perception of others’ pain, and that has been implicated in parental nurturance behaviors. Pride induction engaged the posterior medial cortex, a region that has been associated with self-referent processing. Self-reports of compassion experience were correlated with increased activation in a region near the PAG, and in the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Self-reports of pride experience, in contrast, were correlated with reduced activation in the IFG and the anterior insula. These results provide preliminary evidence towards understanding the neural correlates of important interpersonal dimensions of compassion and pride. Caring (compassion) and self-focus (pride) may represent core appraisals that differentiate the response profiles of many emotions.
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