Jamil Zaki

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, United States

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Publications (32)159.09 Total impact

  • Jamil Zaki
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    ABSTRACT: Empathy features a tension between automaticity and context dependency. On the one hand, people often take on each other's internal states reflexively and outside of awareness. On the other hand, empathy shifts with characteristics of empathizers and situations. These 2 characteristics of empathy can be reconciled by acknowledging the key role of motivation in driving people to avoid or approach engagement with others' emotions. In particular, at least 3 phenomena-suffering, material costs, and interference with competition-motivate people to avoid empathy, and at least 3 phenomena-positive affect, affiliation, and social desirability-motivate them to approach empathy. Would-be empathizers carry out these motives through regulatory strategies including situation selection, attentional modulation, and appraisal, which alter the course of empathic episodes. Interdisciplinary evidence highlights the motivated nature of empathy, and a motivated model holds wide-ranging implications for basic theory, models of psychiatric illness, and intervention efforts to maximize empathy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
    Psychological bulletin. 11/2014; 140(6):1608-47.
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    ABSTRACT: Lay intuitions suggest that the ability to share, celebrate, and enjoy others’ positive emotions—a phenomenon we term positive empathy—bolsters individual well-being and relationship strength. However, it is unclear from the current literature whether (i) positive empathy is distinct from highly related constructs and (ii) whether positive empathy is associated with salutary social and personal outcomes. Here, we begin by examining basic evidence suggesting that positive empathy is related to, but independent from constructs such as general positivity or empathy for others’ distress. We then review evidence that positive empathy correlates with increased prosocial behavior, social closeness, and well-being. Lastly, we discuss open directions for the study of positive empathy, such as investigating the potential role of positive empathy (or its disruption) in psychiatric disorders.
    Social and Personality Psychology Compass 10/2014; in press.
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    ABSTRACT: How is positive emotion associated with our ability to empathize with others? Extant research provides support for two competing predictions about this question. An empathy amplification hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with greater empathy, as it often enhances other prosocial processes. A contrasting empathy attenuation hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with lower empathy, because positive emotion promotes self-focused or antisocial behaviors. The present investigation tested these competing perspectives by examining associations between dispositional positive emotion and both subjective (i.e., self-report) and objective (i.e., task performance) measures of empathy. Findings revealed that although trait positive emotion was associated with increased subjective beliefs about empathic tendencies, it was associated with both increases and decreases in task-based empathic performance depending on the target's emotional state. More specifically, trait positive emotion was linked to lower overall empathic accuracy toward a high-intensity negative target, but also a higher sensitivity to emotion upshifts (i.e., shifts in emotion from negative to positive) toward positive targets. This suggests that trait positive affect may be associated with decreased objective empathy in the context of mood incongruent (i.e., negative) emotional stimuli, but may increase some aspects of empathic performance in the context of mood congruent (i.e., positive) stimuli. Taken together, these findings suggest that trait positive emotion engenders a compelling subjective-objective gap regarding its association with empathy, in being related to a heightened perception of empathic tendencies, despite being linked to mixed abilities in regards to empathic performance. (Word count: 242).
    PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(10):e110470. · 3.53 Impact Factor
  • Jamil Zaki, W Craig Williams
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    ABSTRACT: Contemporary emotion regulation research emphasizes intrapersonal processes such as cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression, but people experiencing affect commonly choose not to go it alone. Instead, individuals often turn to others for help in shaping their affective lives. How and under what circumstances does such interpersonal regulation modulate emotional experience? Although scientists have examined allied phenomena such as social sharing, empathy, social support, and prosocial behavior for decades, there have been surprisingly few attempts to integrate these data into a single conceptual framework of interpersonal regulation. Here we propose such a framework. We first map a "space" differentiating classes of interpersonal regulation according to whether an individual uses an interpersonal regulatory episode to alter their own or another person's emotion. We then identify 2 types of processes-response-dependent and response-independent-that could support interpersonal regulation. This framework classifies an array of processes through which interpersonal contact fulfills regulatory goals. More broadly, it organizes diffuse, heretofore independent data on "pieces" of interpersonal regulation, and identifies growth points for this young and exciting research domain. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
    Emotion 10/2013; 13(5):803-810. · 3.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Interpersonal dysfunction contributes to significant disability in the schizophrenia spectrum. Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD) is a schizophrenia-related personality demonstrating social cognitive impairment in the absence of frank psychosis. Past research indicates that cognitive dysfunction or schizotypy may account for social cognitive dysfunction in this population. We tested SPD subjects and healthy controls on the Empathic Accuracy (EA) paradigm and the Reading of the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), assessing the impact of EA on social support. We also explored whether EA differences could be explained by intelligence, working memory, trait empathy, or attachment avoidance. SPD subjects did not differ from controls in RMET, but demonstrated lower EA during negative valence videos, associated with lower social support. Dynamic, multimodal EA paradigms may be more effective at capturing interpersonal dysfunction than static image tasks such as RMET. Schizotypal severity, trait empathy, and cognitive dysfunction did not account for empathic dysfunction in SPD, although attachment avoidance is related to empathic differences. Empathic dysfunction for negative affect contributes to decreased social support in the schizophrenia spectrum. Future research may shed further light on potential links between attachment avoidance, empathic dysfunction, and social support.
    Psychiatry research. 06/2013;
  • Jamil Zaki
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    ABSTRACT: Scientists examining how people understand other minds have long thought that this task must be something like how people perceive the physical world. This comparison has proven to be deeply generative, as models of physical perception and social cognition have evolved in parallel. In this article, I propose extending this classic analogy in a new direction by proposing cue integration as a common feature of social cognition and physical perception. When encountering complex social cues—which happens often—perceivers use multiple processes for understanding others’ minds. Like physical senses (e.g., vision or audition), social cognitive processes have often been studied as though they operate in relative isolation. In the domain of physical perception, this assumption has broken down, following evidence that perception is instead characterized by pervasive integration of multisensory information. Such integration is, in turn, elegantly described by Bayesian inferential models. By adopting a similar cue integration framework, researchers can similarly understand and formally model the ways that we perceive others’ minds based on complex social information.
    Perspectives on Psychological Science 05/2013; 8(3):296-312. · 4.89 Impact Factor
  • Joseph M Moran, Jamil Zaki
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    ABSTRACT: Functional imaging has become a primary tool in the study of human psychology but is not without its detractors. Although cognitive neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding the neural instantiation of countless cognitive processes, commentators have sometimes argued that functional imaging provides little or no utility for psychologists. And indeed, myriad studies over the last quarter century have employed the technique of brain mapping-identifying the neural correlates of various psychological phenomena-in ways that bear minimally on psychological theory. How can brain mapping be made more relevant to behavioral scientists broadly? Here, we describe three trends that increase precisely this relevance: (i) the use of neuroimaging data to adjudicate between competing psychological theories through forward inference, (ii) isolating neural markers of information processing steps to better understand complex tasks and psychological phenomena through probabilistic reverse inference, and (iii) using brain activity to predict subsequent behavior. Critically, these new approaches build on the extensive tradition of brain mapping, suggesting that efforts in this area-although not initially maximally relevant to psychology-can indeed be used in ways that constrain and advance psychological theory.
    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 03/2013; · 4.49 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Although altruistic and selfish behaviors seem fundamentally incommensurate, humans regularly choose between them. One model of such choices suggests that individuals ascribe a common form of subjective value to their own outcomes and those of others. To test this person invariance hypothesis, we asked individuals to choose between allocating varying amounts of money to themselves or to a partner. Participants' choice patterns provided an estimate of the relative value they placed on their own and others' gains. These estimates were used to isolate neural activity correlating with the subjective value of gains irrespective of the recipient (self or other) during a separate set of trials in which rewards were offered only to the self or partner. Activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex scaled with this person-invariant value parameter, consistent with earlier demonstrations that this region supports common value computation. These data suggest that individuals reduce the value associated with their own and others' experiences to a common subjective scale, which is used to guide social decision-making.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 01/2013; · 5.04 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Human beings have an unusual proclivity for altruistic behavior, and recent commentators have suggested that these prosocial tendencies arise from our unique capacity to understand the minds of others (i.e., to mentalize). The current studies test this hypothesis by examining the relation between altruistic behavior and the reflexive engagement of a neural system reliably associated with mentalizing. Results indicated that activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex--a region consistently involved in understanding others' mental states--predicts both monetary donations to others and time spent helping others. These findings address long-standing questions about the proximate source of human altruism by suggesting that prosocial behavior results, in part, from our broader tendency for social-cognitive thought.
    Journal of Neuroscience 05/2012; 32(22):7646-50. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Classic theories of emotion posit that awareness of one's internal bodily states (interoception) is a key component of emotional experience. This view has been indirectly supported by data demonstrating similar patterns of brain activity - most importantly, in the anterior insula - during both interoception and emotion elicitation. However, no study has directly compared these two phenomena within participants, leaving it unclear whether interoception and emotional experience truly share the same functional neural architecture. The current study addressed this gap in knowledge by examining the neural convergence of these two phenomena within the same population. In one task, participants monitored their own heartbeat; in another task they watched emotional video clips and rated their own emotional responses to the videos. Consistent with prior research, heartbeat monitoring engaged a circumscribed area spanning insular cortex and adjacent inferior frontal operculum. Critically, this interoception-related cluster also was engaged when participants rated their own emotion, and activity here correlated with the trial-by-trial intensity of participants' emotional experience. These findings held across both group-level and individual participant-level approaches to localizing interoceptive cortex. Together, these data further clarify the functional role of the anterior insula and provide novel insights about the connection between bodily awareness and emotion.
    NeuroImage 05/2012; 62(1):493-9. · 6.25 Impact Factor
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    Jamil Zaki, Kevin Ochsner
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    ABSTRACT: The last decade has witnessed enormous growth in the neuroscience of empathy. Here, we survey research in this domain with an eye toward evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. First, we take stock of the notable progress made by early research in characterizing the neural systems supporting two empathic sub-processes: sharing others' internal states and explicitly considering those states. Second, we describe methodological and conceptual pitfalls into which this work has sometimes fallen, which can limit its validity. These include the use of relatively artificial stimuli that differ qualitatively from the social cues people typically encounter and a lack of focus on the relationship between brain activity and social behavior. Finally, we describe current research trends that are overcoming these pitfalls through simple but important adjustments in focus, and the future promise of empathy research if these trends continue and expand.
    Nature Neuroscience 04/2012; 15(5):675-80. · 15.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Introduction:Empathic deficits in schizophrenia may lead to social dysfunction, but previous studies of schizophrenia have not modeled empathy through paradigms that (1) present participants with naturalistic social stimuli and (2) link brain activity to "accuracy" about inferring other's emotional states. This study addressed this gap by investigating the neural correlates of empathic accuracy (EA) in schizophrenia.Methods:Fifteen schizophrenia patients and 15 controls were scanned while continuously rating the affective state of another person shown in a series of videos (ie, targets). These ratings were compared with targets' own self-rated affect, and EA was defined as the correlation between participants' ratings and targets' self-ratings. Targets' self-reported emotional expressivity also was measured. We searched for brain regions whose activity tracked parametrically with (1) perceivers' EA and (2) targets' expressivity.Results:Patients showed reduced EA compared with controls. The left precuneus, left middle frontal gyrus, and bilateral thalamus were significantly more correlated with EA in controls compared with patients. High expressivity in targets was associated with better EA in controls but not in patients. High expressivity was associated with increased brain activity in a large set of regions in controls (eg, fusiform gyrus, medial prefrontal cortex) but not in patients.Discussion:These results use a naturalistic performance measure to confirm that schizophrenic patients demonstrate impaired ability to understand others' internal states. They provide novel evidence about a potential mechanism for this impairment: schizophrenic patients failed to capitalize on targets' emotional expressivity and also demonstrate reduced neural sensitivity to targets' affective cues.
    Schizophrenia Bulletin 03/2012; · 8.80 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: SOCIAL COGNITION IS FUNDAMENTALLY INTERPERSONAL: individuals' behavior and dispositions critically affect their interaction partners' information processing. However, cognitive neuroscience studies, partially because of methodological constraints, have remained largely "perceiver-centric": focusing on the abilities, motivations, and goals of social perceivers while largely ignoring interpersonal effects. Here, we address this knowledge gap by examining the neural bases of perceiving emotionally expressive and inexpressive social "targets." Sixteen perceivers were scanned using fMRI while they watched targets discussing emotional autobiographical events. Perceivers continuously rated each target's emotional state or eye-gaze direction. The effects of targets' emotional expressivity on perceiver's brain activity depended on task set: when perceivers explicitly attended to targets' emotions, expressivity predicted activity in neural structures-including medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex-associated with drawing inferences about mental states. When perceivers instead attended to targets' eye-gaze, target expressivity predicted activity in regions-including somatosensory cortex, fusiform gyrus, and motor cortex-associated with monitoring sensorimotor states and biological motion. These findings suggest that expressive targets affect information processing in manner that depends on perceivers' goals. More broadly, these data provide an early step toward understanding the neural bases of interpersonal social cognition.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 01/2012; 6:228. · 2.91 Impact Factor
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    Jamil Zaki, Jason P Mitchell
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    ABSTRACT: Standard economic and evolutionary models assume that humans are fundamentally selfish. On this view, any acts of prosociality--such as cooperation, giving, and other forms of altruism--result from covert attempts to avoid social injunctions against selfishness. However, even in the absence of social pressure, individuals routinely forego personal gain to share resources with others. Such anomalous giving cannot be accounted for by standard models of social behavior. Recent observations have suggested that, instead, prosocial behavior may reflect an intrinsic value placed on social ideals such as equity and charity. Here, we show that, consistent with this alternative account, making equitable interpersonal decisions engaged neural structures involved in computing subjective value, even when doing so required foregoing material resources. By contrast, making inequitable decisions produced activity in the anterior insula, a region linked to the experience of subjective disutility. Moreover, inequity-related insula response predicted individuals' unwillingness to make inequitable choices. Together, these data suggest that prosocial behavior is not simply a response to external pressure, but instead represents an intrinsic, and intrinsically social, class of reward.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2011; 108(49):19761-6. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    Jamil Zaki, Kevin Ochsner
    Psychological Inquiry 07/2011; 22(3):221-230. · 4.73 Impact Factor
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    Jamil Zaki, Kevin Ochsner
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    ABSTRACT: Understanding the contents of other minds is a vital and ubiquitous task that humans perform with impressive skill. As such, it is surprising that the majority of social cognition research—whether behavioral or neuroscientific—focuses on the processes people use when attempting to understand each other while ignoring how well those attempts fare. Here we review historical reasons for the contemporary dominance of process-oriented research as well as the resurgence in the last decades of new approaches to studying interpersonal accuracy. Although in principle both the accuracy-oriented and process-oriented approaches study related aspects of the same phenomena, in practice they have made strikingly little contact with each other. We argue that integrating these approaches could expand our understanding of social cognition, both by suggesting new ways to synthesize extant data and generate novel predictions and lines of research, and by providing a framework for accomplishing such an integration. This integration can be especially useful in highlighting the deeply contextualized nature of the relationships between social cognitive processes, accuracy, and adaptive social behavior.
    Psychological Inquiry 07/2011; 22(3):159-182. · 4.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Building on animal research, the past decade has witnessed a surge of interest in the effects of oxytocin on social cognition and prosocial behavior in humans. This work has generated considerable excitement about identifying the neurochemical underpinnings of sociality in humans, and discovering compounds to treat social functioning deficits. Inspection of the literature, however, reveals that the effects of oxytocin in the social domain are often weak and/or inconsistent. We propose that this literature can be informed by an interactionist approach in which the effects of oxytocin are constrained by features of situations and/or individuals. We show how this approach can improve understanding of extant research, suggest novel mechanisms through which oxytocin might operate, and refine predictions about oxytocin pharmacotherapy.
    Trends in Cognitive Sciences 06/2011; 15(7):301-9. · 16.01 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background / Purpose: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) and schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) each involve distinct forms of interpersonal dysfunction, but empirical research on the nature of this dysfunction remains limited.We characterized healthy controls and BPD and SPD subjects on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), a task in which subjects are asked to identify emotions in pictures of the eye regions of different people that has been shown to distinguish individuals with high-functioning autism. Subjects also completed a more naturalistic Empathic Accuracy (EA) task, in which subjects were asked to continuously rate the affective valence of a video of a healthy target speaking about a real emotional experience.Given the subtlety of social cognitive differences in personality disorders, we hypothesized that BPD and SPD patients would perform differently than controls on the EA task, but not the RMET. Main conclusion: Although there were no differences in accuracy between groups on RMET performance, SPD subjects demonstrated lower EA for videos of negative valence, which correlated with their lower self-reported diversity of social support. SPD patients’ difficulty in understanding others’ negative emotions therefore likely contributes to their social isolation.Questions after each EA video asking the subject to give an overall rating of the target on several negative emotions showed a main effect of diagnosis, with BPD subjects particularly rating targets as less frightened. This agrees with past data regarding BPD patients’ alexithymia and divergences between amygdala and psychophysiologic hyperreactivity on the one hand, and blunted subjective ratings of emotion on the other. BPD subjects’ EA was correlated with perceived tangibility of social support, which is likely indicative of the interrelationship between attachment insecurity and empathic understanding in this population.
    66th Society of Biological Psychiatry Annual Meeting 2011; 06/2011
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    ABSTRACT: Social influence--individuals' tendency to conform to the beliefs and attitudes of others--has interested psychologists for decades. However, it has traditionally been difficult to distinguish true modification of attitudes from mere public compliance with social norms; this study addressed this challenge using functional neuroimaging. Participants rated the attractiveness of faces and subsequently learned how their peers ostensibly rated each face. Participants were then scanned using functional MRI while they rated each face a second time. The second ratings were influenced by social norms: Participants changed their ratings to conform to those of their peers. This social influence was accompanied by modulated engagement of two brain regions associated with coding subjective value--the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex--a finding suggesting that exposure to social norms affected participants' neural representations of value assigned to stimuli. These findings document the utility of neuroimaging to demonstrate the private acceptance of social norms.
    Psychological Science 06/2011; 22(7):894-900. · 4.43 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Empathy is crucial for successful social relationships. Despite its importance for social interactions, little is known about empathy in schizophrenia. This study investigated the degree to which schizophrenia patients can accurately infer the affective state of another person (i.e. empathic accuracy). A group of 30 schizophrenia patients and 22 healthy controls performed an empathic accuracy task on which they continuously rated the affective state of another person shown in a video (referred to as the 'target'). These ratings were compared with the target's own continuous self-rating of affective state; empathic accuracy was defined as the correlation between participants' ratings and the targets' self-ratings. A separate line-tracking task was administered to measure motoric/attentional factors that could account for group differences in performance. Participants' self-rated empathy was measured using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, and targets' self-rated emotional expressivity was measured using the Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire. Compared with controls, schizophrenia patients showed lower empathic accuracy although they performed the motoric tracking task at high accuracy. There was a significant group×target expressivity interaction such that patients showed a smaller increase in empathic accuracy with higher levels of emotional expressivity by the target, compared with controls. Patients' empathic accuracy was uncorrelated with self-reported empathy or clinical symptoms. Schizophrenia patients showed lower empathic accuracy than controls, and their empathic accuracy was less influenced by the emotional expressivity of the target. These findings suggest that schizophrenia patients benefit less from social cues of another person when making an empathic judgement.
    Psychological Medicine 04/2011; 41(11):2297-304. · 5.59 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

1k Citations
159.09 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2013–2014
    • Stanford University
      • Department of Psychology
      Palo Alto, California, United States
  • 2010–2013
    • Harvard University
      • Department of Psychology
      Cambridge, MA, United States
  • 2012
    • Northwestern University
      Evanston, Illinois, United States
  • 2010–2011
    • Mount Sinai School of Medicine
      • Department of Psychiatry
      Manhattan, NY, United States
  • 2007–2011
    • Columbia University
      • Department of Psychology
      New York City, New York, United States