Sylvia Morelli is a Postdoctoral Fellow at
Stanford Social Neuroscience
Lab at Stanford University.
current research, she examines the neural and behavioral basis of empathy
and perspective-taking, as well as the neural responses associated with
feeling understood by others.
We held a wide ranging
discussion about the nature of empathy, and her
work on researching it. In a recent study and paper,
Sylvia explored the neural and behavioral consequences of feeling
Sylvia says, when we are understood, or empathized with, the pleasure
centers of the brain light up. In other words, feeling empathized with
"Behavioral research has demonstrated that feeling
understood by others enhances social closeness and intimacy, as well as
subjective well-being. In contrast, feeling misunderstood can be harmful
to social relationships, leading to loneliness and isolation.
However, it is still unclear why and how felt understanding exerts such a
powerful impact on both interpersonal and intrapersonal well-being"
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"Behavioral research has demonstrated that feeling understood
by others enhances social closeness and intimacy, as well as subjective
well-being. In contrast, feeling misunderstood can be harmful to social
relationships, leading to loneliness and isolation. However, it is still
unclear why and how felt understanding exerts such a powerful impact on
both interpersonal and
intrapersonalwell-being. Therefore, we will examine
what neural systems track felt understanding and
if these neural systems can predict increased social closeness.
initial behavioral session, 31 UCLA undergraduates were videotaped as
they described their four most positive and four most negative
autobiographical events. In addition, participants were asked for their
consent to show other UCLA students their videos. A subset of 19
participants returned for an fMRI scanning session approximately one
week later. "
April 2013 - The role of automaticity and attention in neural processes
underlying empathy for happiness, sadness, and anxiety.
Sylvia A. Morelli and Matthew D. Lieberman
"Although many studies have examined the neural basis of experiencing
empathy, relatively little is known about how empathic processes are
affected by different attentional conditions. Thus, we examined whether
instructions to empathize might amplify responses in empathy-related
regions and whether cognitive load would diminish the involvement of
Thirty-two participants completed a functional magnetic resonance
imaging session assessing empathic responses to individuals experiencing
happy, sad, and anxious ..."
"Past research suggests that empathy may occur instantaneously and
automatically when we recognize another’s emotional state (Preston and
De Waal, 2002), even if we are cognitively busy. However, other research
suggests that empathy is disrupted when we are distracted and
cognitively occupied (Gu and Han, 2007)."
"Despite empathy's importance for promoting social
interactions, neuroimaging research has largely overlooked empathy
during social experiences. Here, we examined neural activity during
empathy for social exclusion and assessed how empathy-related neural
processes might relate to subsequent prosocial behavior toward the
excluded victim. During an fMRI scan, participants observed one person
being excluded by two others, and afterwards sent emails to each of
these 'people.'Later, a group of raters assessed how prosocial (eg, ..."