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I feel your pain, even though I can't feel mine

Pain-insensitive people probably rely on emotional regions of the brain for empathy

In 1985, Monday Night Football fans looked on as Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was sacked. The collision was so forceful that it snapped Theismann’s leg, breaking like, as one fan put it, a “stale chopstick.” Most audience members likely empathized with Theismann and sensed his pain, including people afflicted with a rare disorder that prevents them from feeling pain themselves, a new study suggests.

Instead of using past experiences of feeling pain to commiserate, such people likely rely on the ability to imagine the pain of others, suggests the brain-imaging study, published online January 28 in Neuron.

“This fascinating and well-conducted study” gives new insights into the relationship between pain and empathy, comments Marco Loggia of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Charlestown, Mass.

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