The gender you are and the gender you like: Sexual preference and empathic neural responses

D. Perry, K. Walder, T. Hendler, S. G. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background Empathy relates to the ability to share the emotions and understand the intentions and emotions of the other. Although it has been suggested that women have superior empathic abilities as compared to men, it is unknown whether it is the gender or the sexual preference of the individual that affects empathy. Given that sexual attraction has been reported to affect social behavior, the present study explored the possibility that sexual orientation affects behavioral measures of empathy as well as empathy related activations. Methods Fifty two heterosexual and homosexual women and men were scanned while performing an emotional judgment task involving emotional understanding of a protagonist. Results The behavioral and neuroimaging results indicate that empathy is related to the gender as well as the sexual preference of the participant. Individuals sexually attracted to men (heterosexual women and homosexual men) showed greater empathy than subjects attracted to women (heterosexual men and homosexual women). Furthermore, brain imaging data reveal that regions within the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), showed sensitivity to the sexual orientation of the individual, such that it was activated more in subjects attracted to men than in subjects attracted to women while evaluating the emotional state of the other. Moreover, the activation in the TPJ was found to be correlated with the degree to which subjects were empathizing. Conclusions These results suggest that individual differences in empathy are related to the gender as well as the sexual orientation of the subject.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-75
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Research
Volume1534
DOIs
StatePublished - 9 Oct 2013

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Gender
  • Sexual attraction
  • TPJ
  • fMRI

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