Acting appropriately within social contexts requires an ability to appreciate others' mental and emotional states. Indeed, some campaign programs designed to reduce anti-social behaviour seek to elicit empathy for the victims. The effectiveness of these campaigns can be evaluated according to the degree to which they induce such responses, but by applying neuroscientific techniques this can be done at the behavioural and neurophysiological level. Neuroimaging studies aimed at identifying the neural mechanisms behind such socio-cognitive and -emotional processes frequently reveal the role of the superior temporal sulcus (STS). We applied this knowledge to assess the effectiveness of traffic-awareness campaign adverts to induce empathic expression. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were acquired from 20 healthy male volunteers as they watched these campaign videos consisting of a dramatic sequence of events and catastrophic endings, and control videos without such dramatic endings. Among other structures, a significantly greater neural response was observed within bilateral STS, particularly within the right hemisphere, during the observation of campaign relative to control videos. Furthermore, activation in these brain regions correlated with the subjects' empathic expression. Our results develop our understanding of the role of STS in social cognition. Moreover, our data demonstrate the utility of neuroscientific methods when evaluating the effectiveness of campaign videos in terms of their ability to elicit empathic responses. Our study also demonstrates the utility of these specific stimuli for future neuroscientific research.
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- Socio-emotional processing
- Traffic-awareness campaign