Compassionate attitude towards others' suffering activates the mesolimbic neural system

Ji Woong Kim, Sung Eun Kim, Jae Jin Kim, Bumseok Jeong, Chang Hyun Park, Ae Ree Son, Ji Eun Song, Seon Wan Ki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Compassion is one of the essential components which enable individuals to enter into and maintain relationships of caring. Compassion tends to motivate us to help people who are emotionally suffering. It is also known that a feeling of intrinsic reward may occur as a result of experiencing compassion for others. We conducted this study to understand the neural nature of compassion for other people's emotional state. Twenty-one healthy normal volunteers participated in this study. We used a 2 × 2 factorial design in which each subject was asked to assume a compassionate attitude or passive attitude while viewing the sad or neutral facial affective pictures during functional magnetic imaging. The main effect of a compassionate attitude was observed in the medial frontal cortex, the subgenual frontal cortex, the inferior frontal cortex and the midbrain regions. A test of the interaction between a compassionate attitude and sad facial affect revealed significant activations in the midbrain-ventral striatum/septal network region. The results of this study suggest that taking a compassionate attitude towards other people's sad expressions modulate the activities of the midbrain-ventral striatum/septal region network, which is known to play a role in the prosocial/social approach motivation and its accompanied rewarding feeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2073-2081
Number of pages9
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Aug

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant of the Korea Health 21 R&D Project, Ministry of Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea (A050495). This work was also supported in part by Konyang University Myunggok Research Fund of 2008.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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