MAPrc research highlighted in New Scientist magazine

This week’s edition of New Scientist magazine (13 March 2010) includes a feature article based on the work of MAPrc PhD candidate Ms. Bernadette Fitzgibbon.

Titled “Empathy Overkill,” this article describes a new phenomenon called “pain synaesthesia” and is based on a review article that Bernadette recently published in the prestigious journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews.
People with pain synaesthesia experience pain when they see others in pain. It seems to be particularly common among people who have had a limb amputated, and can be extremely distressing and debilitating for the affected individual.
Ms. Fitzgibbon suggests that “mirror neurons” might be involved in synaesthesia for pain. Mirror neurons are a particular type of brain cell that become active when we do something but also when we see someone do the same thing. They are thought to be our brain’s way of “putting ourselves into someone else’s shoes” and are thought to be important for empathy.
At MAPrc, Ms. Fitzgibbon is currently investigating synaesthesia for pain using a range of clinical and neuroscience techniques, including electroencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation. This work has implications for our understanding and management of pain, but also compliments current MAPrc research looking at mirror neurons and their role in autism, Asperger’s disorder, and schizophrenia.
New Scientist is a popular science magazine that is published in Europe, North America, and Australasia, and is read by almost one million people each week.


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