neural basis for empathy/conscience

Bill Skaggs bill at nsma.arizona.edu
Wed Dec 29 09:00:22 EST 1993


glenne at csd4.csd.uwm.edu (Neuromancer ) writes:

>   Would anyone like to speculate on the neural basis of empathy 
>   and conscience?   Might an individual with damage to the links between
>   his midbrain (the center of his own emotions) and the left hemisphere 
>   of his cerebrum (the center of abstraction) be unable to abstract
>   emotions to other people, and thus have a greatly impaired conscience?
>
>   Is there enough known to dismiss this gross oversimplification of mine?

To begin with, the midbrain is not the center of emotions.  The brain
areas that have been most reliably connected to emotional behavior are
the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the periaqueductal gray, and parts of
the neocortex.  Of these, only the periaqueductal gray is in the
midbrain.

Second, if "impaired conscience" is the same thing as sociopathic
behavior, then the only evidence I'm aware of would relate this to
damage to the prefrontal cortex.  If "impaired conscience" means
failure to feel bad after doing something that hurts somebody, I
haven't seen any work that connects it to any particular part of the
brain.  The "feeling bad" system is pretty much a mystery in general,
except for some fuzzy evidence connecting it to the anterior cingulate
cortex. 

	-- Bill



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