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Neural responses in the pain matrix when observing pain of others are unaffected by testosterone administration

By Sarah J. Heany, David Terburg, Dan J. Stein, Jack van Honk, Peter A. Bos

Posted 08 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/245001

There is evidence of testosterone having deteriorating effects on cognitive and affective empathy. However, whether testosterone influences core affective empathy, that is empathy for pain, has not yet been investigated. Therefore, we tested neural responses to witnessing others in pain in a within-subject placebo-controlled testosterone administration study. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we provide affirming evidence that the empathy inducing paradigm causes changes in the activity throughout the pain circuitry, including the bilateral insula and anterior cingulate cortex. Administration of testosterone however did not influence these activation patterns in the pain matrix. Testosterone has thus downregulating effects on aspects of empathic behaviour, but based on these data does not seem to influence neural responses during core empathy for pain. This finding gives more insight into the role of testosterone in human empathy.

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