Witnessing peer rejection during adolescence: Neural correlates of empathy for experiences of social exclusion

Department of Psychology, University of California, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA.
Social neuroscience (Impact Factor: 2.66). 10/2010; 5(5-6):496-507. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2010.490673
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Neuroimaging studies with adults have begun to reveal the neural bases of empathy; however, this research has focused on empathy for physical pain, rather than empathy for negative social experiences. Moreover, this work has not examined adolescents who may frequently witness and empathize with others that experience negative social experiences such as peer rejection. Here, we examined neural activity among early adolescents observing social exclusion compared to observing inclusion, and how this activity related to both trait empathy and subsequent prosocial behavior. Participants were scanned while they observed an individual whom they believed was being socially excluded. At least one day prior to the scan they reported their trait empathy, and following the scan they wrote emails to the excluded victim that were rated for prosocial behavior (e.g., helping, comforting). Observing exclusion compared to inclusion activated regions involved in mentalizing (i.e., dorsomedial prefrontal cortex), particularly among highly empathic individuals. Additionally, individuals who displayed more activity in affective, pain-related regions during observed exclusion compared to inclusion subsequently wrote more prosocial emails to excluded victims. Overall findings suggest that when early adolescents witness social exclusion in their daily lives, some may actually 'feel the pain' of the victims and act more prosocially toward them as a result.

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    • "Another open question is the mechanism by which the ostracism videos led to enhanced affiliative motivation. One possibility is that the effect was mediated by empathy for the ostracized individual (Masten et al., 2010, 2013 ). However, again, children in the ostracism condition did not report that they themselves felt sad, casting doubt on this explanation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Humans have a strong need to belong. Thus, when signs of ostracism are detected, adults often feel motivated to affiliate with others in order to reestablish their social connections. This study investigated the importance of affiliation to young children following priming with ostracism. Four- and 5-year-old children were primed with either ostracism or control videos and their understanding of, and responses to, the videos were measured. Results showed that children were able to report that there was exclusion in the ostracism videos, and that they recognized that the ostracized individual felt sad. Most interestingly, when subsequently asked to draw a picture of themselves and their friend, children primed with ostracism depicted relationships that were significantly more affiliative. Children drew themselves and their friend standing significantly closer together and adults rated their drawings as more affiliative overall. These findings introduce drawing as a useful new method for measuring social motivations and processes following an experimental manipulation, and demonstrate that affiliation is particularly important to children following even a vicarious experience of social exclusion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Developmental Psychology 04/2015; 51(6). DOI:10.1037/a0039176 · 3.21 Impact Factor
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    • "Other than previous neuroimaging studies related to empathizing, findings from lesion studies or gray matter structural studies of neurodegenerative diseases have also consistently indicated that mPFC (especially the vmPFC) is involved with empathy (though, structures that are involved with empathy seem to vary between studies as well as between diseases; Rankin et al., 2006; Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2003, 2009). Furthermore, although a number of regions are activated during empathy, including mPFC (Morelli and Lieberman, 2013; Rameson et al., 2011; Singer, 2006), subjects with higher empathy experience greater activation of mPFC while observing social exclusion (Masten et al., 2010), viewing social scenes (Wagner et al., 2011), and during empathy (Rameson et al., 2011). Also, empathically accurate, as compared with inaccurate, judgments depended on the activity of the mPFC (Zaki et al., 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Empathizing is the drive to identify the mental status of other individuals and respond to it with an appropriate emotion; systemizing is the drive to analyze a system. Previously, we have shown that structures associated with the default mode network (DMN) and external attention system (EAS) are associated with empathizing and systemizing, respectively. Here we investigated the association between resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) and empathizing/systemizing in 248 healthy young adults. We considered the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (DLPFCs), which are key nodes of DMN and EAS, as seed regions, and investigated correlations across subjects between individual empathizing/systemizing and RSFC between each seed region and other brain regions. We found that higher empathizing was associated with larger RSFC between the mPFC and areas in (a) the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), (b) precuneus, and (c) left superior temporal sulcus (STS). Furthermore, there was an interaction effect between sex and systemizing on RSFC between the left DLPFC and dACC: males showed positive correlations between this RSFC and systemizing, whereas females showed the opposite tendency. Thus, empathizing was associated with increased positive functional coupling with the key node and other nodes of DMN, as well as the area associated with feeling another's pain. Systemizing was associated with increased positive functional coupling between the key nodes of EAS in males. These findings provide further support for the concept of an association between DMN/EAS and empathizing/systemizing.
    NeuroImage 05/2014; 99. DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.05.031 · 6.36 Impact Factor
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    • "Similar results have been found for vicarious embarrassment [30]. However, empathetic responses to vicarious rejection seem to depend on emotional closeness with the victim [31]–[32]. For example, Wesselman, Bagg and Williams [33] found that observers who consciously identified with a victim of ostracism reported greater need threat than observers who did not. "
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    ABSTRACT: Rejection can convey that one is seen as inferior and not worth bothering with. Is it possible for people to feel vicariously rejected in this sense and have reactions that are similar to those following personal rejection, such as feeling humiliated, powerless, and angry? A study on personal rejection was followed by two main studies on vicarious group-based rejection. It was found that merely observing rejection of ingroup members can trigger feelings of humiliation that are equally intense as those experienced in response to personal rejection. Moreover, given that the rejection is explicit, vicariously experienced feelings of humiliation can be accompanied by powerlessness and anger. Potentially, this combination of emotions could be an important source of offensive action against rejecters.
    PLoS ONE 04/2014; 9(4):e95421. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0095421 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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