Culture modulates brain activity during empathy with anger

Moritz de Greck, Zhenhao Shi, Gang Wang, Xiangyu Zuo, Xuedong Yang, Xiaoying Wang, Georg Northoff, Shihui Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Interdependent cultures (such as the Chinese) and independent cultures (such as the German) differ in their attitude towards harmony that is more valued in interdependent cultures. Interdependent and independent cultures also differ in their appreciation of anger - an emotion that implies the disruption of harmony. The present study investigated if interdependent and independent cultures foster distinct brain activity associated with empathic processing of familiar angry, familiar neutral, and unfamiliar neutral faces. Using functional MRI, we scanned Chinese and German healthy subjects during an intentional empathy task, a control task (the evaluation of skin color), and a baseline condition. The subject groups were matched with regard to age, gender, and education. Behaviorally, Chinese subjects described themselves as significantly more interdependent compared to German subjects. The contrast 'intentional empathy for familiar angry' > 'baseline' revealed several regions, including the left inferior frontal cortex, the left supplementary motor area, and the left insula, that showed comparable hemodynamic responses in both groups. However, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex had stronger hemodynamic responses in Chinese subjects in the contrast 'intentional empathy for familiar angry' > 'baseline'. Germans, in contrast, showed stronger hemodynamic responses in the right temporo-parietal junction, right inferior and superior temporal gyrus, and left middle insula for the same contrast. Hemodynamic responses in the latter three brain regions correlated with interdependences scores over all subjects. Our results suggest that enhanced emotion regulation during empathy with anger in the interdependent lifestyle is mediated by the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Increased tolerance towards the expression of anger in the independent lifestyle, in contrast, is associated with increased activity of the right inferior and superior temporal gyrus and the left middle insula.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2871-2882
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Anger
  • Emotion
  • Empathy
  • FMRI
  • Transcultural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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