Age-related changes in human emotional egocentricity: evidence from multi-level neuroimaging

Federica Riva, Melanie Lenger, Martin Kronbichler, Claus Lamm, Giorgia Silani

Emotional egocentric bias (EEB) occurs when, due to a partial failure in self-other distinction, empathy for another's emotions is influenced by our own emotional state. Recent studies have demonstrated that this bias is higher in children, adolescents and older adults than in young adults. In the latter, overcoming emotional egocentrism has been associated with significant activity in the right supramarginal gyrus (rSMG), as well as increased connectivity between rSGM and somatosensory and visual cortices. Investigations on the neural correlates of EEB in adolescents and older adults are missing. We filled this gap, by asking female participants from three different age groups (adolescents, young adults and older adults, N=92) to perform a well-validated EEB task (Silani et al., 2013) in an MRI scanner. A multi-level analysis approach of MRI data including functional segregation, effective connectivity and structural analyses was adopted. Results revealed higher EEB in older compared to young adults and a comparable EEB in adolescents and young adults. Age-related differences in EEB were associated with differences in task-related rSMG connectivity with somatosensory cortices, especially with S2, which acted as a partial mediator between age and EEB. These findings provide further evidence for the crucial role of the rSMG in self-other distinction in the emotional domain, and suggest that the age-related decline in overcoming EEB is best explained by changes in rSMG connectivity rather than decreased regional activity in that area. This advocates a more systematic investigation of task-related connectivity in studies on aging and life-span development of social-cognitive phenomena.

Institut für Psychologie der Kognition, Emotion und Methoden, Institut für Klinische und Gesundheitspsychologie
ÖFOS 2012
501030 Kognitionswissenschaft, 501006 Experimentalpsychologie, 501005 Entwicklungspsychologie
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