Strange Case of ‘Hyper Empathy’ after Brain Surgery

March 26, 2014

Strange Case of ‘Hyper Empathy’ after Brain Surgery

In a strange case, a woman developed “hyper empathy” after having a part of her brain called the amygdala removed in an effort to treat her severe epilepsy, according to a report of her case. Empathy is the ability to recognize another person’s emotions.

The case was especially unusual because the amygdala is involved in recognizing emotions, and removing it would be expected to make it harder rather than easier for a person to read others’ emotions, according to the researchers involved in her case.

During the woman’s surgery, doctors removed parts of her temporal lobe, including the amygdala, from one side of the brain. The surgery is a common treatment for people with severe forms of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) who don’t respond to medication.

After the surgery, the seizures she had suffered multiple times a day stopped. But the woman reported a “new, spectacular emotional arousal,” that has persisted for 13 years to this date, the researchers said.

Although patients with epilepsy treated with surgery have been known to experience new psychological issues afterward, such as depression or anxiety, “the case of this patient is surprising because her complaint is uncommon, and fascinating: hyper empathy,” said Dr. Aurélie Richard-Mornas, a neurologist at University Hospital of Saint-Étienne in France, who reported the case.

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