Is there a core neural network in empathy? An fMRI based quantitative meta-analysis

Yan Fan, Niall W. Duncan, Moritz de Greck, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

703 Citations (Scopus)


Whilst recent neuroimaging studies have identified a series of different brain regions as being involved in empathy, it remains unclear concerning the activation consistence of these brain regions and their specific functional roles. Using MKDA, a whole-brain based quantitative meta-analysis of recent fMRI studies of empathy was performed. This analysis identified the dACC-aMCC-SMA and bilateral anterior insula as being consistently activated in empathy. Hypothesizing that what are here termed affective-perceptual and cognitive-evaluative forms of empathy might be characterized by different activity patterns, the neural activations in these forms of empathy were compared. The dorsal aMCC was demonstrated to be recruited more frequently in the cognitive-evaluative form of empathy, whilst the right anterior insula was found to be involved in the affective-perceptual form of empathy only. The left anterior insula was active in both forms of empathy. It was concluded that the dACC-aMCC-SMA and bilateral insula can be considered as forming a core network in empathy, and that cognitive-evaluative and affective-perceptual empathy can be distinguished at the level of regional activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)903-911
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • ACC
  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Anterior insula
  • Emotion
  • Empathy
  • FMRI
  • MCC
  • MKDA
  • Meta-analysis
  • Mid-cingulate cortex
  • SMA
  • Supplementary motor area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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