Empathy is a multicomponent function that includes sensorimotor, affective, and cognitive components. Although especially the affective component may implicate interoception and interoceptive awareness, the impact of interoception on empathy has never been evaluated behaviorally or neurophysiologically. Here, we tested how a preceding period of interoceptive awareness impacts and modulates neural activity during subsequent empathy. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and measured the sequential interaction between interoception and empathy using fMRI in 18 healthy subjects. We found that the preceding interoceptive awareness period significantly enhanced neural activity during empathy in bilateral anterior insula and various cortical midline regions. The enhancement of neural activity during empathy in both interoceptive and empathy networks by preceding interoceptive awareness suggests a close relationship between interoception and empathy; thereby, interoception seems to be implicated to yielding empathy.
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