Marco E. Contreras, Ph.D.

Marco Contreras
Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Psychology
University of Arizona
Psychology Building, 312
1503 E University Blvd
City, State, Zip
Tucson, AZ 85721-0068
(520) 626-9632
Research Field
Award Year
Country Of Origin
Mentor Name
Jean-Marc Fellous, Ph.D.


In social contexts, empathy is a response enabling the understanding of others' emotional states. Empathy can lead to pro-social behaviors, voluntary actions with the intent to benefit someone else. Brain-imaging studies have shown an increase of activity in a region called the anterior insular cortex when subjects experience empathic feelings. In Dr. Fellous' lab, I am investigating the role of that brain area, and its link to the neuromodulator dopamine, in the expression of empathy. In the first comprehensive analysis to determine a neural basis for empathy, we are examining the effects of dopamine on the insular cortex and its impact on empathetic behavior. Using inactivation studies, electrophysiological recordings of neuronal signaling patterns, and pharmacology, we aim to discern the importance of the insular cortex to empathy and pro-social behavior. This work could lead to potential therapies to treat syndromes such as narcissistic personality disorder, in which empathy is deficient.

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