Do You Feel My Pain? Racial Group Membership Modulates Empathic Neural Responses

Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of China.
The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 6.34). 08/2009; 29(26):8525-9. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2418-09.2009
Source: PubMed


The pain matrix including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) mediates not only first person pain experience but also empathy for others' pain. It remains unknown, however, whether empathic neural responses of the pain matrix are modulated by racial in-group/out-group relationship. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we demonstrate that, whereas painful stimulations applied to racial in-group faces induced increased activations in the ACC and inferior frontal/insula cortex in both Caucasians and Chinese, the empathic neural response in the ACC decreased significantly when participants viewed faces of other races. Our findings uncover neural mechanisms of an empathic bias toward racial in-group members.

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    • "Although some research carried out in intergroup contexts supports the idea that empathy can result in a motivation to advance the out-group's welfare (Batson, Chang, Orr, and Rowland 2002; Iyer, Leach, and Crosby 2003; Pagano and Huo 2007), a growing body of literature indicates that empathic responses are biased or absent when dealing with members of an out-group, leading to reduced prosocial behaviors (e.g., Avenanti, Sirigu, and Aglioti 2010; Chiao 2011; Cikara, Bruneau, and Saxe 2011; Tarrant, Dazeley, and Cottom 2009; Xu et al. 2009). However, the question concerning the effect of empathy in intergroup contexts remains unanswered by these studies. "
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    ABSTRACT: The goal of the current research was to examine how discrete positive intergroup emotional phenomena affect conflict-related attitudes in different contexts of intractable conflict. We hypothesized that empathy, but not hope would be negatively associated with aggressive attitudes during escalation, while hope, but not empathy would be associated with conciliatory attitudes during de-escalation. In study 1 we examined our hypotheses within a correlational design in an emotion-inducing context, while in study 2 a two-wave survey was conducted during real-life events within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a peace summit as well as a war. Both studies supported our hypotheses, thus indicating the unique, yet complimentary, contribution of each of the two emotional phenomena to the advancement of peace.
    Journal of Conflict Resolution 12/2015; DOI:10.1177/0022002715569772 · 2.24 Impact Factor
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    • "Nevertheless, a promising research venture may be to investigate perceivers' neural responses to the context-inappropriate behaviour exhibited by social targets for whom perceivers harbour negative feelings (e.g., stigmatized social groups, disliked others). Prior research that focuses on a social target's context-appropriate behavior suggests that perceivers are less likely to resonate with the emotions of outgroup members (who are less valued/liked than ingroup members; e.g., Azevedo et al., 2013; Gutsell & Inzlicht, 2012; Xu et al., 2009). Perceivers may even evidence brain activity patterns suggestive of counterempathic responses in reaction to outgroup members who are more disliked (i.e., perceivers exhibit greater activation in the "pain matrix" when viewing positive, rather than negative, events Brain Responses to a Spouse's Incongruent Emotional Reactions 33 experienced by envied outgroup members, cf. "
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    ABSTRACT: Resonance with the inner states of another social actor is regarded as a hallmark of emotional closeness. Nevertheless, sensitivity to potential incongruities between one's own and an intimate partner's subjective experience is reportedly also important for close relationship quality. Here, we tested whether perceivers show greater neurobehavioral responsiveness to a spouse's positive (rather than negative) context-incongruent emotions, and whether this effect is influenced by the perceiver's satisfaction with the relationship. Thus, we used fMRI to scan older long-term married female perceivers while they judged either their spouse's or a stranger's affect, based on incongruent nonverbal and verbal cues. The verbal cues were selected to evoke strongly polarized affective responses. Higher perceiver marital satisfaction predicted greater neural processing of the spouse's (rather than the strangers) nonverbal cues. Nevertheless, across all perceivers, greater neural processing of a spouse's (rather than a stranger's) nonverbal behavior was reliably observed only when the behavior was positive and the context was negative. The spouse's positive (rather than negative) nonverbal behavior evoked greater activity in putative mirror neuron areas, such as the bilateral inferior parietal lobule (IPL). This effect was related to a stronger inhibitory influence of cognitive control areas on mirror system activity in response to a spouse's negative nonverbal cues, an effect that strengthened with increasing perceiver marital satisfaction. Our valence-asymmetric findings imply that neurobehavioral responsiveness to a close other's emotions may depend, at least partly, on cognitive control resources, which are used to support the perceiver's interpersonal goals (here, goals that are relevant to relationship stability). Hum Brain Mapp, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Human Brain Mapping 10/2015; 36(10):4164-4183. DOI:10.1002/hbm.22909 · 5.97 Impact Factor
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    • "We implemented a variant of the pain decision task (e.g., Xu et al., 2009; Sessa et al., 2014a) in which participants, in each experimental trial, were first exposed to a face looking either trustworthy or untrustworthy, and following a short blank interval, a pictorial cue (either a syringe or a Q-tip) indicated whether a painful stimulation or a non-painful stimulation was applied to the cheek of that individual, a procedure that was similar to the cue-based paradigm (see Lamm, et al., 2011) implemented in the study by Singer et al. (2006). In our experiments, the coloured arrow signalling pain was replaced by the picture of a syringe (the non-painful condition was indicated by a Q-tip). "
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    ABSTRACT: As might be expected, neural empathic responses toward someone in pain are shaped by the affective/social relationship between the observer and the suffering person. Brain activity associated with empathy is sensitive to previous knowledge on the other's social conduct, such that, for instance, an unfair person in pain elicits in the observer reduced activations of empathy-related brain regions compared to a fair person. We conjectured that even in the absence of information on the personality and social behaviour of an individual, empathy might be modulated by the 'first impression' based on other's physical facial features, such that the other is perceived as trustworthy or untrustworthy. By means of event-related potentials technique, we monitored in two experiments the neural empathic responses associated with the pain of trustworthy and untrustworthy faces, either computerized and parametrically manipulated (Experiment 1) and real faces (Experiment 2) in a cue-based paradigm. We observed P3 empathic reactions towards individuals looking trustworthy whereas the reactions towards individuals looking untrustworthy were negligible, if not null. An additional experiment (Experiment 3) was conducted in order to substantiate our conclusions by demonstrating that the experimental paradigm we designed did very likely activate an empathic response.
    Neuropsychologia 10/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.10.028 · 3.30 Impact Factor
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