Empathy, violence share similar brain circuits

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

London: Just as the human species could be considered the most violent, since they are capable of serial killings, genocide and other atrocities, they are also the most empathetic species, which would seem to be the other side of the coin, says researcher Luis Moya Albiol.

Albiol, researcher at the Universitat de Valencia, Spain, says the prefrontal and temporal cortex, parts of the brain, overlap "in a surprising way" with those that regulate aggression and violence.

As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits -- for both empathy and violence -- could be "partially similar".

Albiol, who led the study, concludes that these parts of the brain play "a fundamental role in all situations in which empathy appears."

"We all know that encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, but this may not only be a social question but also a biological one, stimulation of these neuronal circuits in one direction reduces their activity in the other," the researcher adds.

This means it is difficult for a "more empathetic" brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis.

"Educating people to be empathetic could be an education for peace, bringing about a reduction in conflict and belligerent acts," Albiol concludes, according to a release of FECYT, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology.

These findings were published in the latest issue of Revista de Neurologia.