Imagine… You are in your kitchen, cutting a cucumber and by accident you cut deeply in your finger. Even just imagining this, you might feel your finger hurting, or a nauseous feeling your stomach.
Imagine… You are again in your kitchen, but this time, a dear friend of yours is cutting a vegetable and by accident your friend cuts his/her finger deeply.
How do you feel?
You might again feel the pain in your finger yourself, feel it in your stomach. Do you help your friend? Or is it just too much and do you flee away?
These questions are exactly what I try to find an answer to in my PhD project. My work at the Social Brain Lab is to add to our understanding of empathy and the processing of emotions.
For this I work with a rodent model for emotional contagion and with human epilepsy patients, allowing single cell recordings in regions associated with emotion processing.
We can use rodents to examine the molecular and neural mechanisms underlying emotional contagion. By using Widefield imaging techniques I try to uncover potential cortical area’s that are involved in the observation and experience of pain and explore a more network based approach to investigate the neural mechanism of empathy.
Moreover, to see whether rodents can go beyond emotional state sharing and actually help a cagemate in distress, I am developing a paradigm to test pro social behavior in rats. Eventually we can look for possible regions involved in this behavior.
Although rodent models can give us great insights in the neural basis of emotional contagion on a single cell level, in the end we want to understand human social behavior. I turn to single cell recordings in epilepsy patients, which is a great tool to understand emotion processing on a single unit scale, and finding mirror neurons for emotions.