Indexed on: 19 May '18Published on: 19 May '18Published in: Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
The neural mechanisms facilitating the experience of vicarious social touch are largely unknown. The right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) has been suggested as part of a simulation observation-execution neural network that plays a key role in the perception of tactile stimuli. Considering that vicarious social touch involves vicarious sharing of emotions, we hypothesized that emotional empathy, i.e., the ability to feel what another individual is feeling, modulates the neural responses to vicarious touch. To examine the role of the rIFG in vicarious touch and its modulation by levels of emotional empathy, we used anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on forty participants who observed photos depicting social touch, nonsocial touch or no touch during tDCS or sham stimulation. The results show that while participants with high levels of emotional empathy exhibited no change in ratings of vicarious social touch, participants with low levels of emotional empathy rate human touch as more emotional following anodal stimulation of the rIFG than following sham stimulation. These findings indicate that emotional responses to vicarious social touch are associated with rIFG activity and are modulated by levels of emotional empathy. This result has major therapeutic potential for individuals with low empathic abilities, such as those with ASD. Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.