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Empathy can trick the smartest of brains

Washington: Empathy can trick the smartest of brains into being fooled by a swindler, says a new US research.

The network of neurons (nerve cells) that allows us to empathise also dumbs down the brain`s analytical network, says the study by the Case Western Reserve University.

The findings show for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic simultaneously.

When the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed, the journal NeuroImage reports.

At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found, according to a Case Western statement.

"This is the cognitive structure we`ve evolved," said Anthony Jack, assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western who led the new study.

"Empathetic and analytic thinking are, at least to some extent, mutually exclusive in the brain," Jack said.

The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised.

Moreover, it also provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

A number of earlier studies showed that two large scale brain networks are in tension in the brain, one which is known as the default mode network and a second known as the task positive network.

But other researchers have suggested that different mechanisms drive this tension.

One theory says that we have one network for engaging in goal directed tasks. This theory says that our second network allows the mind to wander. The other theory says that one network is for external attention, and the second network is for internal attention.

Jack said that a philosophical question inspired the study: "The most persistent question in the philosophy of mind is the problem of consciousness."

IANS

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