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From facial mimicry to emotional empathy: a role for norepinephrine?

Harrison, N.A. ORCID:, Morgan, R. and Critchley, H.D. 2010. From facial mimicry to emotional empathy: a role for norepinephrine? Social Neuroscience 5 (4) , pp. 393-400. 10.1080/17470911003656330

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Tendency to mimic others' emotional facial expressions predicts empathy and may represent a physiological marker of psychopathy. Anatomical connectivity between amygdala, cingulate motor cortex (M3, M4), and facial nucleus demonstrates a potential neuroanatomical substrate for mimicry, though pharmacological influences are largely unknown. Norepinephrine modulation selectively impairs negative emotion recognition, reflecting a potential role in processing empathy-eliciting facial expressions. We examined effects of single doses of propranolol (beta-adrenoceptor blocker) and reboxetine (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) on automatic facial mimicry of sadness, anger, and happiness, and the relationship between mimicry and empathy. Forty-five healthy volunteers were randomized to 40 mg propranolol or 4 mg reboxetine. Two hours after drug subjects viewed and rated facial expressions of sadness, anger, and happiness, while corrugator, zygomatic, and mentalis EMG were recorded. Trait emotional empathy was measured using the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale. EMG confirmed emotion-specific mimicry and the relationship between corrugator mimicry and empathy. Norepinephrine modulation did not alter mimicry to any expression or influence the relationship between mimicry and empathy. Corrugator but not zygomaticus mimicry predicts trait empathy, consistent with greater anatomical connectivity between amygdala and M3 coding upper facial muscle representations. Although influencing emotion perception, norepinephrine does not influence emotional facial mimicry or its relationship with trait empathy.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge): STM, Behavioural Science and Public Health Titles
ISSN: 1747-0919
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 14:03

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