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Intergroup differences in the sharing of emotive states: Neural evidence of an empathy gap


Abstract and Figures

Empathy facilitates prosocial behavior and social understanding. Here, however, we suggest that the most basic mechanism of empathy—the intuitive sharing of other’s emotional and motivational states—is limited to those we like. Measuring electroencephalographic (EEG) alpha oscillations as people observed ingroup vs outgroup members, we found that participants showed similar activation patterns when feeling sad as when they observed ingroup members feeling sad. In contrast, participants did not show these same activation patterns when observing outgroup members and even less so the more they were prejudiced. These findings provide evidence from brain activity for an ingroup bias in empathy: empathy may be restricted to close others and, without active effort, may not extend to outgroups, potentially making them likely targets for prejudice and discrimination.
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Intergroup differences in the sharing of emotive
states: neural evidence of an empathy gap
Jennifer N. Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario M1C 1A4, Canada
Empathy facilitates prosocial behavior and social understanding. Here, however, we suggest that the most basic mechanism of
empathythe intuitive sharing of others emotional and motivational statesis limited to those we like. Measuring electroence-
phalographic (EEG) alpha oscillations as people observed ingroup vs outgroup members, we found that participants showed
similar activation patterns when feeling sad as when they observed ingroup members feeling sad. In contrast, participants did not
show these same activation patterns when observing outgroup members and even less so the more they were prejudiced. These
findings provide evidence from brain activity for an ingroup bias in empathy: empathy may be restricted to close others and,
without active effort, may not extend to outgroups, potentially making them likely targets for prejudice and discrimination.
Keywords: empathy; prejudice; EEG; frontal asymmetries
Prejudice is an ongoing problem in human societies, with
humans committing some of the most hateful acts because of
their prejudices, including acts of discrimination, segrega-
tion and even wars and genocides. At the same time,
humans are truly empathic creatures: one-day old babies
cry when they hear other babies cry (Sagi and Hoffman,
1970) and the recent discovery of the so called ‘mirror
neuron system’ (Rizzolatti et al., 1996) revealed that we in-
tuitively ‘catch’ and ‘match’ other’s emotions and actions by
mere observation. Humans, it appears, have a natural in-
stinct to connect with others and to share their emotions.
We wonder, however: does this natural tendency to share
others’ emotions occur for our social outgroups? Here, we
propose that although people can easily pick up others’ emo-
tions and thereby empathize with them, they are less likely to
do so when that other belongs to an outgroup. By looking at
prefrontal alpha asymmetry in response to ingroup and out-
group member’s negative emotions, this study investigates
whether people resonate less with members of social out-
groups than ingroups and whether this bias in empathy is
intensified by increasing levels of prejudice. First, we define
what we mean by empathy.
The nature of empathy
Empathy is the ability to share others’ emotions (Batson
et al., 1981; Preston and de Waal, 2002), or more specifically,
an affective response more appropriate to another’s situation
than one’s own (Hoffman, 2000). Note though, that emo-
tional sharing seems to be only the first step of the full
blown empathic response, which requires at least minimal
realization that the emotions one is feeling are caused by the
other (Decety and Jackson, 2004). The initial undifferenti-
ated vicarious experience of the other’s emotionalso called
emotional contagionnonetheless, is essential for and closely
related to empathy (Singer and Lamm, 2009).
According to the perceptionaction model of empathy
(Preston and de Waal, 2002), empathy is based on neural
simulation. Merely seeing others doing something or ex-
pressing their emotions engages the same neural networks
necessary for the execution of the same behavior or the ex-
perience of the same emotions in the observer. This vicarious
activation of similar neural networks then elicits the asso-
ciated autonomic and somatic responses, thereby allowing
the observer to share the target’s motivational and emotional
states (Decety and Jackson, 2004). Empathy, thus, comes to
us naturallywe ‘catch’ the other’s emotionsand this vic-
arious experience helps us to gain an intuitive understanding
of them.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a
growing body of literature has now found considerable evi-
dence for what researchers are calling ‘perceptionaction-
coupling’ (Decety and Jackson, 2004) that, the perception
of a given behavior or emotion in another individual acti-
vates one’s own neural representations of the same behavior
or emotion. Such neural simulation processes have been
found for a number of processes, including intentional
actions (Rizzolatti et al., 1996), disgust (Wicker et al.,
2003), touch (Keysers et al., 2004), facial expressions (Carr
et al., 2003) and pain (Singer et al., 2004). Importantly,
recent evidence indicates that this perceptionaction-
coupling is associated with empathy the more people show
Received 7 November 2010; Accepted 25 April 2011
Advance Access publication 23 June 2011
This research was supported by grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Ministry of
Research and Innovation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to Michael Inzlicht. We
thank Jason Plaks, Elizabeth Page-Gould, Alexa Tullett, Sonia Kang, Jacob Hirsh, Rimma Teper, and Shona Tritt
for valuable insights. We also thank Pranavi Ravichandran and Suleiman Furmli for their assistance with data
Correspondence should be addressed to Jennifer N. Gutsell, Department of Psychology, University of
Toronto, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario M1C 1A4, Canada. E-mail:
doi:10.1093/scan/nsr035 SCAN (2012) 7, 596 ^603
ßThe A uthor (2 011). Published by Oxford Univer sity Pres s.F or Permission s, please e mail: journals.p ermissions @oup.c om
evidence of neural simulation to others’ actions and emo-
tions, the higher their levels of trait empathy (Hooker et al.,
2010) and the better they perform on tasks that are contin-
gent on emotional empathy (Pineda and Hecht, 2009).
Empathy and its limits
Although perceptionaction-coupling and its accompanying
empathic states may be unconscious, there is growing evi-
dence that they are not automatic, subject to topdown in-
fluences. One such influence is group affiliation, with
research suggesting an ‘empathy-gap’ where we are less
likely to catch and match the actions and emotions of the
outgroup (vs the ingroup). For example, people are less likely
to help outgroup than ingroup members in need (Gaertner
et al., 1982; Saucer et al., 2005; Kunstman and Plant, 2008)
and less likely to value the lives of outgroup members as
much as ingroup members (Pratto and Glasford, 2008).
Evidence from the social neurosciences suggests that
group-affiliation similarly exerts a topdown influence on
perceptionaction-coupling. A recent fMRI study, for
example, found that people show more neural activation in
pain circuits when observing the painful penetration of the
face of ethnic ingroup members than of outgroup members
(Xu et al., 2009) and when they see people in distressing and
emotionally painful situations (Mathur et al., 2010).
Moreover, such differences in empathy-related neural activa-
tion predict costly helping behavior (Hein et al., 2010). Using
transcranial magnetic simulation (TMS), Avenanti et al.,
(2010) found less corticospinal muscle inhibition when par-
ticipants observed ethnic outgroup members receiving pain-
ful stimuli than when observing the same thing happening to
ingroup members. Finally, using electroencephalographic
(EEG) indices of primary motor cortex activity, Gutsell and
Inzlicht (2010) found less neural simulation of action for
outgroup members than ingroup members.
Rather than reflecting innate ingroup preferences, how-
ever, such ingroup biases may occur as a function of cultur-
ally learned prejudice (Chiao and Mathur, 2010). For
example, people high in social dominance orientation
(Pratto et al., 1994; Sidaniusand Pratto, 1999), a personality
trait that is strongly related to higher levels of prejudice,
show less activation in neural areas for pain when they see
people in painful situations (Chiao et al., 2009). In an inter-
group context, high-prejudice people are specifically likely to
show diminished perceptionaction-coupling to the out-
group, be that diminished motor cortex activity (Gutsell
and Inzlicht, 2010) or reduced corticospinal inhibition
(Avenanti et al., 2010). Furthermore, the reduction in
perceptionaction-coupling in these two studies was particu-
larly acute for culturally disliked outgroups, so South Asians
in Canada (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2010) and Blacks in Italy
(Avenanti et al., 2010). Together, these studies suggest these
brain effects are more a function of culture than innate
The empathy gap may be part of a broader bias in per-
ceptual processes whereby we are less receptive to outgroup
members more generally including their emotions. The fMRI
studies, for instance, reveal less neural activity in areas for
social perception and social cognition in response to out-
groups than ingroups (Harris and Fiske, 2006; Van Bavel
et al., 2008). Similarly, people have greater difficulty to rec-
ognize outgroup member’s faces and to interpret their facial
expressions and voices relative to the ingroup (Sporer, 2001;
Elfenbein and Ambady, 2002). There seem to be differences in
not only how sensitive people are to the emotional expres-
sions of outgroup members, but also differences in how they
react to these emotions. For example, fear and happiness ex-
pressed by outgroup faces elicit the opposite emotional reac-
tion in the observer (Weisbuch and Ambady, 2008).
Moreover, people show greater amygdala response in re-
sponse to fearful ingroup compared to outgroup faces
(Chiao et al., 2009), possibly because the amygdala is sensitive
to motivational relevance (Cunningham et al., 2008) and fear
in ingroup members is more likely to signal danger to one’s
self than fear in outgroup members. Noticing the fear of
someone from one’s own ingroup, therefore, becomes rele-
vant to one’s own safety. The point here is that the emotions
expressed by ingroups and outgroups may be perceived and
reacted to differently.
The current study
All told, our social biases act as topdown influences and
interfere with perceptionaction-coupling when it comes to
outgroup members, and research on social perception sug-
gests that other basic perception processes are equally biased
against social outgroups. The suggestion, here, is that people
are less able to catch and match the emotions of other people
when those other people come from an outgroup. To our
knowledge, no one has actually examined the sharing of
emotions with the ingroup vs outgroup on a neural level.
Previous studies have focused on basic motor and sensory
processes such as motor activity or the sensation of pain
(Xu et al., 2009; Avenanti et al., 2010; Gutsell and Inzlicht,
2010; Mathur et al., 2010), but empathy also involves the
sharing of basic emotional and motivational states (Levenson
and Ruef, 1992; Hatfield et al., 1994). It is unclear from past
research, therefore, if there is an empathy gap in the actual
sharing of emotions. To further investigate this specific issue,
we need to measure emotional processes more directly. In
the current study, we measure prefrontal alpha asymmetry as
an index of emotional and motivational states (Davidson
and Tomarken, 1989; Davidson, 1992; Harmon-Jones,
2003) to reveal possible ingroup biases to the extent
to which people intuitively catch the emotions of other
We used EEG to measure the relative activation of the
right and left prefrontal cortices; prefrontal cortical areas
being essential for processing of reward and punishment
related information (Davidson, 2004). Studies have
Intergroup differences in emotive states and empathy SCAN (2012) 597
consistently associated activity in left prefrontal cortex with
the expression and experience of approach-related motiv-
ational and affective states, such as happiness but also
anger, while activation of the right prefrontal cortex has
been shown to be related to the expression and experience
of withdrawal-related motivational and affective states such
as fear or sadness (Davidson, 1995; Harmon-Jones and
Allen, 1998; Peterson et al., 2008). These differences in func-
tionality have often been measured using relative EEG activ-
ity in the alpha band (813 Hz) in electrodes over left and
right prefrontal cortex (for a review, see Davidson, 1995).
For instance, higher activation of right prefrontal cortex, as
indicated by relatively lower alpha at right prefrontal elec-
trode sites, is associated with, depression (Allen et al., 1993),
a general trait-like negative emotional style (Wheeler et al.,
1993), and with negative emotional responses to films
(Davidson et al., 1990). In contrast, higher activation of
left prefrontal cortex is associated with approach-related
positive affect (Gable and Harmon-Jones, 2008) and
approach-related anger (Harmon-Jones and Sigelman,
2001). Importantly, the prefrontal cortex is involved in
the experience and expression of emotions, but not in
the perception of emotions (Davidson, 2004). Hence,
measures of prefrontal alpha asymmetry during observation
of an object other provide a measure of vicarious emotions
free from confounds due to the mere perceptions of
We predict that participants will show stronger right pre-
frontal alpha asymmetry, indicating negative, withdrawal-
related emotions while experiencing sadness and that they
will show similar right prefrontal alpha asymmetry when
passively observing ingroup members non-verbally express-
ing sadness. Reflecting an ingroup bias, we expect no such
vicarious right prefrontal alpha asymmetry during the obser-
vation of outgroup members experiencing sadness. We fur-
ther predict that this lack of vicarious emotion when
passively observing the outgroup will be associated with par-
ticipant’s level of prejudice: the more prejudiced people are,
the less they will catch the outgroup’s emotions.
Our original sample consisted of 30 right-handed university
students. Participants were recruited from an introductory
psychology course at the University of Toronto,
Scarborough, and participated in the study for course
credit. Two participants were excluded from our original
sample due to a technical malfunction of the EEG system
and another two were excluded because they self-identified
as Black and mixed-race. Consequently, our final sample
consisted of 26 participants, 10 males and 16 females, from
various non-Black ethnic backgrounds (8 White, 6 East
Asian and 12 South Asian). The participants were in the
age group of1823 years (M¼18.46, s.d. ¼3.81).
Participants were told that the study’s purpose was to inves-
tigate the neural underpinnings of emotions. Participants
read and signed an informed consent sheet and were then
fitted with an electrode cap for EEG recording. EEG was
recorded while participants watched a set of videos.
The videos showed a variety of ingroup and outgroup mem-
bers expressing sadness. At the end of each video set, par-
ticipants completed an emotion induction task during which
they were led to feel sadness by vividly remembering past sad
events in their life. To assess how individual differences in
prejudice and in the ability to empathize with others are
related to differences in the vicarious experience of emo-
tional states, we then had participants complete several
trait measures of prejudice and empathy.
Symbolic racism scale
Participants completed the symbolic racism scale (Henry and
Sears, 2002) during a mass testing session in an introductory
psychology course at the beginning of the term. The sym-
bolic racism scale is a measure of modern racisma subtle
form of racismthat obscures racist feelings with abstract
values, such as justice and order.
Video manipulation
The study had a one-way within-subject design with three
conditions (self-condition, ingroup condition and outgroup
condition). Figure 1 graphically illustrates the design. For the
purpose of our study, we defined ingroup as people who
shared the participant’s ethnic identity and outgroup as
people who did not. Videos of ingroup and outgroup mem-
bers (White, Black, South Asian and East Asian) expressing
sadness served as the independent variable for the randomly
presented outgroup and ingroup conditions, and this was
followed by the self-condition. The videos depicted the
actors sitting at a table in front of a white wall expressing
sadness. In the outgroup condition, the participant saw four
different actors from each ethnic outgroup. For example, a
white participant would see four different black actors for
20 s each, followed by four different East Asian actors and
four different South Asian actors. In the ingroup condition,
participants saw four different ingroup members, each for
20 s, expressing sadness.
To control for differences besides the ethnicity of the in-
dividual actors, we asked a separate pilot sample of nine
people to rate the videos. Specifically, after viewing each
video, the raters used a 5-point scale to indicate the extent
to which they thought the videoed individual (i) felt sad,
(ii) felt positive, (iii) felt negative, (iv) experienced a
strong emotion, (v) experienced an arousing emotion,
(vi) was likable and (vii) was attractive. Raters further indi-
cated (viii) the overall technical quality of the video and
(ix) the amount of empathy they felt for the actor. Results
revealed no significant differences between ethnic groups on
598 SCAN (2012) J. N. Gutsell and M. Inzlicht
any of these variables, all P’s > 0.16, ns, suggesting that the
actors from each ethnic group were viewed similarly, at least
at an explicit level.
To ensure that participants attended the videos through-
out the whole session, they performed a control task during
the ingroup and outgroup conditions. For this task, the
videos stopped between 2 and 5 times and the screen
turned black for 1 s during each condition. Participants
were asked to count how many times the black screen ap-
peared and to indicate the number of such pauses at the end
of the condition. Participants reported the correct number of
black screens in 83% of all cases indicating that they attended
the videos.
All ingroup and outgroup videos were presented in a
random order, thus the ingroup condition could appear in
any position in the set of videos. The actors in the videos
were male students of the University of Toronto and, there-
fore, were approximately the same age, but not always the
same sex as the participants. Each actor was displayed for
20 s Consequently, we obtained 80 s of EEG data during the
ingroup conditions and 240 s during the outgroup condi-
tions; 80 s during each of the three different ethnic
At the end of the video set, the participants were asked
to experience the emotion of sadness themselves
(self-condition). To facilitate the experience of sadness, par-
ticipants completed an emotion induction exercise, which
consisted of a series of instructions aimed to elicit vivid
memories of past sad events. Participants saw the following
instruction: ‘Please think about a situation in your past,
which made you feel very sad. Imagine the situation as viv-
idly as you can’. After completion of the exercise,
participants continued experiencing the emotion for 80 s
while they looked at a blank computer screen.
Empathy quotient
In order to assess the trait-like ability to empathize with
others, we had participants complete the empathy quotient
(Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2004). The empathy quo-
tient is a 60-item forced choice self-report scale that taps into
both cognitive and emotional aspects of empathy.
Reading the mind in the eyes test
We administered a second measure related to em-
pathyreading the mind in the eyes test (Baron-Cohen
et al., 2001)a measure of mindreading and social sensitiv-
ity. Specifically, in this test, participants are presented with a
series of 25 photographs of the eye-region of different faces.
For each photograph, they have to select one of four words
that best describes what the person in the photograph is
thinking or feeling.
EEG data acquisition and processing
To measure prefrontal alpha asymmetries, we recorded the
EEG from 32 Ag/AgCl sintered electrodes embedded in a
stretch-lycra cap. Recordings were collected from the 32 elec-
trode sites according to the 1020 system with a band pass
filter at 0.1100 Hz and a notch filter at 60 Hz. The EEG was
digitized at 512 Hz using ASA acquisition hardware
(Advanced Neuro Technology, Enschede, The Netherlands)
with an average earlobe reference. Vertical eye movements
(VEOG) were monitored using a supra- to suborbital bipolar
montage and the continuous EEG recordings were corrected
off-line for eye-blinks using the VEOG channel and the
Fig. 1 Outline of experiment design.
Intergroup differences in emotive states and empathy SCAN (2012) 599
Second Order Blind Identification (SOBI) procedure, which
is a signal processing method for isolating and removing
ocular artifacts (Tang et al., 2005). During recording, the
impedances were kept below 5 kVto ensure a clear and
strong EEG signal. Continuous artefact-free epochs of 2.0 s
from each interval were extracted through a Hamming
window and overlapped by 75% to minimize data loss. As
said above, we recorded 80 s of data for the observation of
each ethnic group. To avoid habituation, however, we calcu-
lated power only for the first 10 s of each actor, resulting in
40 s of data for each ethnic group. For the same reason, we
only included the first 10 s of EEG data acquired during the
self-condition. Power was calculated via fast Fourier trans-
form. Power values (in mV
) were averaged across epochs
within each interval. Total power within the alpha band
(813 Hz), an inverse indication of cortical activity, was
logarithmically transformed and asymmetry scores were cal-
culated as right-site minus homologous left-site alpha power
for lateral prefrontal sites (F8F7), which is consistent with
how prefrontal asymmetry is typically calculated
(Harmon-Jones, 2006). Higher scores indicate relatively
greater left- than right-cortical activation indicating more
approach motivation and less sadness/withdrawal.
Results confirmed our hypotheses suggesting an ingroup bias
in emotional sharing (Figure 2). We created index scores of
relative alpha activity for each condition (log right alpha
activity at F8; log left alpha activity at F7); such that more
negative scores reflect greater withdrawal and negative emo-
tionality. Participants’ alpha asymmetry scores when person-
ally experiencing sadness (M¼0.08, s.d. ¼0.17) and when
observing ingroup members (ideographically chosen)
experiencing sadness (M¼0.05, s.d. ¼0.15) did not
differ from one another, t(24) ¼1.28, P> 0.20. This suggests
a similarity in emotional/motivational states when personally
experiencing/remembering sadness and when observing the
ingroup experiencing sadness. In contrast, participants did
not show such prefrontal alpha asymmetry when passively
observing outgroup members: participants had significantly
more alpha asymmetry when personally experiencing sad-
ness than when observing an outgroup member experiencing
sadness, (M¼0.03, s.d. ¼0.14), t(24) ¼2.09, P< 0.05.
Although the difference in alpha asymmetry scores for the
ingroup and the outgroup condition was not significant
t(24) ¼0.99; P¼ns, a within subject ANOVA over the
three conditions (self, ingroup and outgroup) further con-
firmed the distinction between ingroup and outgroup. A
significant linear trend indicated that alpha asymmetry was
highest during personal experience of sadness, followed by
the observation of the ingroup and then by the observation
of the outgroup, F(1, 23) ¼4.37, P< 0.05. These effects
where specific to frontal sites such that alpha asymmetry
scores at posterior lateral sites for all the conditions
were positive (all M’s > 0.05), did not differ from one
another (all P’s > 0.43), and did not show a significant
linear trend F(1, 23) ¼0.64; P¼ns. The implication is that
observing someone from one’s own group who is sad elicits
about the same amount of sadness as feeling sad oneself;
outgroup members, in contrast, elicit significantly less sad-
ness. These findings suggest an ingroup bias in emotional
When we break down the omnibus outgroup to specific
ethnicities, we did not find any differences between sub-
groups. So, for example, White participants tended to have
similar levels of brain activity when passively viewing Blacks,
South Asians or East Asians. Once in the outgroup, in other
words, participants stopped differentiating between ethnici-
ties (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2010).
Our second prediction regarding the role of prejudice was
also supported. The results are depicted in Figure 3 and
Table 1. Prejudice was marginally associated with prefrontal
asymmetry scores in response to outgroup members: the
higher participants scored on the modern racism scale, the
higher their asymmetry score, that is the less relative right
prefrontal activation they showed, r(24) ¼0.37, P¼0.07.
This suggests that the more prejudiced people were, the
less they vicariously felt an avoidant motivational state
when observing outgroup member in distress. The more
prejudiced, the less they caught outgroup members’
In contrast, the correlation between prejudice and pre-
frontal asymmetry scores in response to ingroup members
was not significant, r(24) ¼0.32, P¼0.12. However, it is
important to note that these two correlations are not signifi-
cantly different from one another. So while prejudiced
people do not vicariously share emotive states with out-
groups, they may show a (nonsignificant) tendency to not
share it with ingroup members either. This may suggest that
biased attitudes toward outgroups may reflect egocentric
Fig. 2 Alpha asymmetry scores (log right alpha activitylog left alpha activity)
during the experience and observation of sadness as a function of group membership.
More negative scores indicate avoidant, negative affect.
600 SCAN (2012) J. N. Gutsell and M. Inzlicht
biases more generally. For example, research on the preju-
diced personality suggests that people who score high on
prejudice are less likely to be agreeable (Graziano et al.,
2007a). The agreeableness is associated with prosocial behav-
ior (Graziano et al., 2007b) and empathy (Nettle, 2007).
Someone who is prejudiced, therefore, may be less agreeable
in general and show a lack of empathy towards others in
Interestingly, people’s general trait-like tendency and abil-
ity to empathize with others and to read their emotions does
not seem to significantly predict alpha asymmetry in re-
sponse to ingroup or outgroup members. That being said,
although the effects were not significant, there is a trend such
that the higher people were in empathy, as assessed by the
empathy quotient (Lawrence et al., 2004), the higher their
asymmetry scores to both ingroup and outgroup. These re-
sults suggest that trait empathy was (nonsignificantly)
related to emotionally resonating with others, be they from
the in or outgroup. Studies with more statistical power
would be needed to assess the robustness of these effects.
Please see Table 1 for a more detailed depiction of these
Taken together, our research provides direct evidence that
people are less likely to show prefrontal right alpha asym-
metry when observing sad outgroup others. We take this as
evidence that people generally do not vicariously feel the
emotional and motivational states of those they categorize
as outgroup members. Moreover, the extent of vicarious
right alpha asymmetry in response to sad outgroup members
is associated with level of prejudice. In other words, the more
prejudiced people are, the less likely they will intuitively
catch the emotive states of outgroup members. This bias in
emotional sharing could contribute to an empathy-gap, im-
pairing the experience of empathy for outgroups, which is a
capacity that underlies and facilitates social understanding
and cooperation and fosters helping, morality, altruism and
justice (Batson et al., 1997; Cialdini et al., 1997). Thus, when
people fail to share the emotional and motivational states of
outgroup members they might not be as responsive to out-
group member’s needs and be less likely to help or even to
understand that support is needed. This could be particularly
true for people high in prejudice, opening the door for
It is important to note that our findings do not implicate
any causal direction between the lack of empathy toward
outgroups and prejudice. While it is possible that a lack of
empathy can contribute to prejudice, it is just as likely that
prejudice contributes to a lack of empathy.
Fig. 3 Symbolic racism scores as a function of prefrontal alpha asymmetry scores in the outgroup condition.
Table 1 Correlations among asymmetry scores and individual difference
Symbolic racism
Reading the mind
in the eyes test score
R-value P-value R-value P-value R-value P-value
Ingroup 0.32 0.12 0.33 0.11 0.26 0.22
Outgroup 0.37 0.07 0.27 0.20 0.35 0.10
Note: Higher alpha asymmetry denotes ‘less’ vicarious sharing of sadness.
Intergroup differences in emotive states and empathy SCAN (2012) 601
Maybe both mechanisms are at work, creating a vicious
cycle in which people initially empathize less with outgroups,
which makes them a likely target for prejudice, which then
further restricts empathy toward the disliked group. The
exact nature of the relationship is difficult to determine
and should be addressed by future research.
Finally, we would like to stress that, although, we suspect
that the ease with which we can empathize with the ingroup
may have been biologically hardwired by evolutionary pres-
sures (Wilson and Sober, 1998), we are not suggesting that
people are more or less likely to include or exclude specific
ethnic groups. Indeed, the gap in perceptionaction-
coupling may be specific to culturally disliked groups that
change from one society to the next (e.g. Gutsell and
Inzlicht, 2010). Instead, the specific coalitional alliances
that populate our ingroup category are likely arbitrary and
can in fact be changed very easily (Turner et al., 1979).
Recent research shows that despite a lifetime’s experience
of race as a predictor of social alliance, minimal exposure
to alternate coalitional possibilities is enough to deflate the
tendency to categorize by race (Cosmides et al., 2003; Van
Bavel and Cunningham, 2009).
Hence, even if we are less likely to simulate the emotions
and actions of the outgroup, these effects may be temporary
and can be erased when we foster empathy toward the out-
group and better yet, include a greater number of people
into our ingroup. One of the means to achieve this goal is
cognitive perspective taking. Taking the perspective of an
outgroup member has been shown to reduce prejudice to-
wards the outgroup (Batson et al., 1997) and this reduction
is mediated by an increase in perceived self-other overlap
(Galinsky and Moskowitz, 2000). By fostering a feeling of
connectedness, perspective taking offers a way to overcome
biases in neural simulation and thereby allows an intuitive
understanding between people whether they share group
membership or not.
Conflict of Interest
None declared.
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... They are not didactic in tone. Our hope was that as people with mental illnesses share very human stories of vulnerabilities and triumphs, listeners may consider them more "like me," a process that itself fosters empathy [12]. ...
... The findings allowed them to neurally and temporally define two stages of processing that underlie empathy: a stage biased by race (280-340 ms), when the neuronal responses to pain of individuals of one's own race vs. another race are amplified; and another stage of cognitive assessment of pain (400-750 ms), without any racial prejudice present. Similar results were obtained by Gutsell and Inzlicht (2012) and Cao et al. (2015) with fMRI. ...
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Research in psychology related to the conceptualization of empathy has been on the rise in the last decades. However, we argue that there is still space for further research to help capture the important notion of empathy and its theoretical and conceptual depth. Following a critical review of the current state of the research that conceptualizes and measures empathy, we focus on works that highlight the importance of a shared vision and its relevance in psychology and neuroscience. Considering the state of the art of current neuroscientific and psychological approaches to empathy, we argue for the relevance of shared intention and shared vision in empathy-related actions. Upon review of different models that emphasize a shared vision for informing research on empathy, we suggest that a newly developed theory of self, human growth and action–the so-called Inter-Processual Self theory (IPS)–can significantly and novelly inform the theorization on empathy beyond what the literature has stated to date. Then, we show how an understanding of integrity as a relational act that requires empathy is an essential mechanism for current key research on empathy and its related concepts and models. Ultimately, we aim to present IPS as a distinctive proposal to expand upon the conceptualization of empathy.
... Thus, people's normative endorsement of moral partiality could reflect the belief that loyalty is an important moral virtue, and that close relationships give rise to special moral obligations. People might also feel more empathy toward close others than distant others (as they do for ingroup members; see e.g., Gutsell & Inzlicht, 2012;Tarrant et al., 2009). This could lead people to incorporate an expanded set of moral considerations beyond just justice (Batson et al., 1995), could make them more inclined to believe in the underlying goodness of close others, and/or could lead them to assume that the person had a good reason for acting as they did-all of which might lead people to judge the need for (legal) punishment to be less pressing. ...
This dissertation contains a philosophical project and a psychological project. Together, they explore two central themes, and the relation between them: (1) doxastic control and the ethics of belief, and (2) the moral and epistemic import of close personal relationships. The philosophical project (Chapters 1 and 2) concerns a central puzzle in the ethics of belief: how can we make sense of apparent obligations to believe for moral or practical reasons, if we lack the ability to form beliefs in response to such reasons? I draw on empirical work in emotion regulation to make progress on this problem of doxastic control. The psychological project (Chapters 3 and 4) concerns the role of relational closeness in moral judgment: though empirical moral psychology has traditionally focused on judgments about anonymous strangers, I contribute to a growing body of work showing how personal relationships can dramatically affect moral reasoning. Chapter 1, “Acceptance and the Ethics of Belief,” develops an empirically plausible and mechanistically detailed account of acceptance, the attitude classically characterized as “taking a proposition as a premise in practical reasoning and action.” I argue that acceptance centrally involves preventing a belief from playing its characteristic role in guiding cognition, reasoning, and action, that this centrally involves a “cognitive gating” operation, and that this view gains empirically plausibility by its analogy to well-studied strategies in emotion regulation. Ultimately, I defend acceptance as doxastic response modulation. I propose that this account holds promise for addressing puzzles in the ethics of belief—a domain plagued by the central theoretical challenge of our inability to believe for non-evidential reasons. Chapter 2, “Reframing Epistemic Partiality,” applies my account of acceptance to a specific debate in the ethics of belief: the epistemic partiality debate, which asks whether we sometimes ought to believe against the evidence regarding our friends. Though compelling, the partialist view has been plagued by serious objections. I argue that the debate has been focused on the wrong doxastic attitude: recasting our duties of friendship as duties of acceptance, rather than belief, satisfies the partialist intuitions, without falling prey to the varied objections against the view. Chapter 3, “What We Would (but Shouldn’t) Do for Those We Love” builds on prior work demonstrating that people say they are far more likely to report a distant other, compared to a close other, who commits a serious moral transgression. Across four studies, I demonstrate that people not only say they would protect close others more than distant others, but also that they say it is morally right to show such partiality towards close others. Furthermore, I show that people say that they would protect close others more than they think they should—suggesting that moral decisions involving those closest to us may be a context in which people are particularly likely to fail to do what they think is right. Chapter 4, “How Relationship Affects Adolescents’ Decisions to Report Moral Transgressions,” investigates how 6th-9th graders respond to the transgressions of close versus distant others. Given the social importance of peer relationships in adolescence, the role of relationship is central to understanding this stage of moral development. I show that adolescents—like adults—are more likely to report distant others who transgress than close others, and more likely to report serious moral transgressions than minor ones.
... Brief instruction in mindfulness has also been associated with less racial discrimination in trust behaviors (Lueke & Gibson, 2016). These findings are especially relevant given that harboring higher implicit biases against racial outgroup members is associated with lower empathy (e.g., Gutsell & Inzlicht, 2012) and willingness to help outgroup members (Gaertner et al., 1982;Kunstman & Plant, 2008). This research is promising, but it is difficult to ascribe prosocial emotion to these behaviors, as it is possible that individuals offer help in intergroup interactions to patronize (Vescio et al., 2003) and/or to maintain social dominance over that group (Nadler, 2002). ...
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Objectives Training in mindfulness has been found to enhance interpersonal benefits (e.g., gratitude, forgiveness, empathy, compassion). Here, we ask if these interpersonal benefits extend to intergroup contexts. Methods Two experiments (n = 256) tested whether brief mindfulness instruction predicted higher prosocial helping behavior toward an ostracized racial outgroup member. Results In Study 1, mindfulness instruction, relative to active and inactive controls, predicted higher helping behavior toward an ostracized racial outgroup member in a private (but not in a public) context. State empathic concern did not mediate the relationship between mindfulness training and private helping behavior. In Study 2, which involved greater anonymity, mindfulness instruction predicted higher private and public helping behavior toward an ostracized racial outgroup member. Empathic concern statistically mediated the relationship between mindfulness training and public, but not private, helping. Conclusions Together these two studies indicate that, in a relatively anonymous context, brief mindfulness instruction predicts higher empathic concern and helping behavior toward an ostracized racial outgroup member. Discussion focuses on implications and limitations of mindfulness for intergroup prosociality.
... Empathy is defined as "the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, perspective, and emotions of another person" (Oxford Dictionary), and some research has shown that empathy towards similar people (e.g. ethnicity) tends to be higher, where the response to situations faced by these similar people would be how they would respond to themselves (Brown et al., 2006;Gutsell & Inzlicht, 2012). ...
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Introduction. Research focused on listening and understanding public attitudes towards farm animal welfare is proliferating globally. Objective. To determine how consumers in Colombia perceive the welfare of farm animals and socio-demographic factors associated with such perceptions. Materials and methods. A descriptive and analytical epidemiological study was done through the implementation of a cross-sectional national online survey, conducted from September to October-2021, to obtain information on the knowledge and attitudes of consumers (≥18 years) in Colombia regarding farm animal welfare, as well as socio-demographic characteristics (sex, age, education, occupation, location, growing-up environment, level of contact with livestock farms, and diet). Logistic and multinomial logistic regression models were used to evaluate associations of demographic factors with the level of importance given to animal welfare (AW), perceptions about needs, behavior, and sentience in farm animals, and perceptions about the state and promotion of AW in Colombia. Results. Responses from 798 participants were included in the analysis, 85.57 % saw AW as a concept that refers to how to treat animals and improve their quality of life. The level of importance given to AW was 9.78±0.85 (scale from 0 to 10) and was associated with words such as health, food, caring, respect, and comfort. Sex, age, education, level of contact with a farm, and growing-up in rural areas significantly influenced the opinions regarding the concept of AW and the promotion of farm animal welfare in Colombia. Conclusion. The participants showed concern about farm animal welfare. The differences found associated with the different socio-demographic factors can be used as a basis for formulating education and empowerment strategies that help modulate changes in the way animals are seen, and what welfare means and what it implies.
... For instance, in a transcranial magnetic stimulation study, no vicarious mapping of the pain of individuals culturally marked as outgroup members on the basis of their skin color was found [161]. This reduction in emotional sharing in response to outgroup members also extends to emotional pain [162]. Importantly, in these studies, higher levels of racial prejudice were associated with a greater absence of empathetic response to outgroup members. ...
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Background: The sympathy-empathy (SE) system is commonly considered a key faculty implied in prosocial behaviors, and SE deficits (also called callous-unemotional traits, CUTs) are associated with nonprosocial and even violent behaviors. Thus, the first intuitive considerations considered a lack of SE among young people who undergo radicalization. Yet, their identification with a cause, their underlying feelings of injustice and grievance, and the other ways in which they may help communities, suggest that they may actually have a lot of empathy, even an excess of it. As a consequence, the links between SE and radicalization remain to be specified. This critical review aims to discuss whether and how SE is associated with developmental trajectories that lead young people to radicalization. Method: We first recall the most recent findings about SE development, based on an interdisciplinary perspective informed by social neuroscience. Then, we review sociological and psychological studies that address radicalization. We will critically examine the intersections between SE and radicalization, including neuroscientific bases and anthropologic modulation of SE by social factors involved in radicalization. Results: This critical review indicates that the SE model should clearly distinguish between sympathy and empathy within the SE system. Using this model, we identified three possible trajectories in young radicalized individuals. In individuals with SE deficit, the legitimization of violence is enough to engage in radicalization. Concerning individuals with normal SE, we hypothesize two trajectories. First, based on SE inhibition/desensitization, individuals can temporarily join youths who lack empathy. Second, based on an SE dissociation, combining emotional sympathy increases for the in-group and cognitive empathy decreases toward the out-group. Conclusions: While confirming that a lack of empathy can favor radicalization, the counterintuitive hypothesis of a favorable SE development trajectory also needs to be considered to better specify the cognitive and affective aspects of this complex phenomenon.
... Moreover, intergroup empathy gaps (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2012;Cikara et al., 2014) -or an inability to effectively understand the perspectives, feelings, or preferences of an individual from a different racial, gender, or other groupmay make it difficult for a person to evaluate the support needs of others, or may render them less motivated to change their provision of support in ways that match those needs. For example, the amount of social support expected and received can be greater when interacting with same-race versus other-race friends in the context of an identity threat (Davis and High, 2017), and people may feel less understood in cross-race than same-race interactions (Mallett et al., 2016;Shelton et al., 2014). ...
Patient-clinician interactions are critical to patient-centered care, including in cancer care contexts which are often defined by multiple patient-clinician interactions over an extended period. Research on these dyadic interactions has been guided by perspectives in clinical communication science, but the study of clinical communication has not been fully integrated with perspectives on interpersonal interactions from relationship science research. An overlapping concept in both fields is the concept of responsive social support. In this article, we discuss responsiveness as concept that offers opportunities for connections between these two disciplines. Next, we focus on how relationship science research can be applied to research in clinical settings. We discuss how three areas of relationship science define responsiveness and have potential for extension to clinical communication: (1) (in)visibility of social support, (2) attachment orientations, and (3) shared meaning systems. We also discuss how social biases can impede responsiveness and suggest research avenues to develop ideas and understand potential challenges in connecting these two fields. Many opportunities exist for interdisciplinary theory development that can generate momentum in understanding interpersonal processes in cancer care.
... We found that the alpha rhythm was continuously activated across the IAT task and implicated a bottom-up component in the occipital cortex that linked with real-life intergroup dialogue styles and attitudes that promote active engagement in peacemaking (30). Prior research has shown that alpha regulates attention and perception (31,32) as well as emotions (33), indexes the maturation of empathy systems in the brain (34), and reflects intergroup bias in various neuroimaging paradigms (35)(36)(37)(38). As such, alpha activity is a potential marker for assessing the effect of interventions on intergroup bias and dialogue in youth reared in the context of intractable intergroup conflicts. ...
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Humans' dependence on group living has led to the formation of tenacious, often non-conscious negative perceptions of other social groups, a phenomenon termed “intergroup bias” that sustains one of the world's most imminent problem: intergroup conflicts. Adolescents' participation in intergroup conflicts has been continuously on the rise, rendering the need to devise interventions that can mitigate some of their deleterious effects on youth an urgent societal priority. Framed within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and targeting youth, we implemented a dialogue-enhancing intervention for adolescents (16–18 years) reared amidst intractable conflict that builds on social synchrony and the neurobiology of affiliation. Implementing a randomized controlled trial design, before and after the eight-week intervention adolescents underwent magnetoencephalography to assess a neural marker of implicit prejudice and interviewed on their attitudes toward the conflict. Adolescents who received the intervention showed attenuation of the neural prejudice response, as indexed by sustained occipital alpha that was significantly reduced at post-intervention and adopted attitudes of peacemaking. Change in the neural prejudice response predicted attitudes of compromise and active engagement in peacebuilding 7 years later, when young adults can already engage in active civil duties and responsibilities. These results underscore adolescence as a window of opportunity for enhancing inter-group dialogue and demonstrate the long-term associations between the neural evaluation of prejudice and self-reported measures of proclivity for compromise and peace in the context of an intractable century-long conflict.
Empathy is an intricate ability that entails the subjective feeling and understanding of emotions someone else may be experiencing. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient found in Tylenol, is among the most common pain medications consumed. There is new evidence, however, that suggests this common analgesic may also dampen empathic processes. However, no previous study has investigated the effect acetaminophen may have on pain empathy or mu power during a pain empathy task. Therefore, participants were randomly assigned to either an experimental (acetaminophen) or control (sugar) group in a double-blinded experimental research design aimed to measure mu power (using EEG) and behavioral responses to painful and non-painful images. Participants in the experimental group were administered 1000 mg of acetaminophen, and it was verified that participants were unaware which group they were assigned. We found that mu suppression was greater in the acetaminophen group, which was strongest at electrode C3. Additionally, mu power differences between painful and non-painful images were related to trait empathy, and mu power during the painful images were positively correlated with empathy scores. Results from this study suggest that in addition to reducing physical pain, acetaminophen may also change the brain response when perceiving others in pain. The implications of these findings could possibly lead to changes in how we prescribe and administer this common drug.
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Empathy enables human beings to understand and share the internal states of others. Studies show that empathy for pain is higher for in-group compared to out-group members. This might be driven by attitudes and biases towards out-groups. In a between subject design, N = 621 participants filled in questionnaires measuring xenophobia and trait empathy and were presented with photos of suffering individuals either from the in-group or an out-group, which had to be rated with respect to negative affect and the willingness to help the depicted persons. Results do not show more compassion with members of the in-group in general, but a negative effect of xenophobia on state empathy in the out-group condition. Additional moderation analyses show that this effect is less evident in presence of high trait empathy scores. Our results highlight the importance of empathy trainings to attenuate the effects of xenophobic attitudes on social cohabitation in our increasingly polarized and culturally diverse societies.
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Research has demonstrated that left-prefrontal cortical activity is associated with positive affect, or approach motivation, and that right-prefrontal cortical activity is associated with negative affect, or withdrawal motivation. In past research, emotional valence (positive-negative) has been confounded with motivational direction (approach-withdrawal), such that, for instance, the only emotions examined were both positive and approach related. Recent research has demonstrated that trait anger, a negative but approach-related emotion, is associated with increased left-prefrontal and decreased right-prefrontal activity, suggesting that prefrontal asymmetrical activity is associated with motivational direction and not emotional valence. The present experiment tested whether state-induced anger is associated with relative left-prefrontal activity and whether this prefrontal activity is also associated with aggression. Results supported these hypotheses.
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The phenomenon of empathy entails the ability to share the affective experiences of others. In recent years social neuroscience made considerable progress in revealing the mechanisms that enable a person to feel what another is feeling. The present review provides an in-depth and critical discussion of these findings. Consistent evidence shows that sharing the emotions of others is associated with activation in neural structures that are also active during the first-hand experience of that emotion. Part of the neural activation shared between self- and other-related experiences seems to be rather automatically activated. However, recent studies also show that empathy is a highly flexible phenomenon, and that vicarious responses are malleable with respect to a number of factors--such as contextual appraisal, the interpersonal relationship between empathizer and other, or the perspective adopted during observation of the other. Future investigations are needed to provide more detailed insights into these factors and their neural underpinnings. Questions such as whether individual differences in empathy can be explained by stable personality traits, whether we can train ourselves to be more empathic, and how empathy relates to prosocial behavior are of utmost relevance for both science and society.
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In this article Hoffman's theory of the development of empathy and moral internalization is reviewed. The theory extends into a comprehensive theory of prosocial moral development that links its emotional/motivational, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions. The author examines five prototypic moral encounters that may give rise to empathic distress and its derivatives. They range from simple situations where one is an innocent bystander, one is a transgressor, real or virtual-to more complex situations that involve multiple claimants where the individual is forced to choose which victims to help and which to ignore, and caring versus justice dilemmas where one must choose between helping an individual or following a moral principle. Hoffman's book on the relationship between empathy and moral development confronts a wide range of theoretical and empirical issues and provides a well-conceptualized and clearly structured agenda for future research.
Contemporary theories have generally focused on either the behavioral, cognitive or emotional dimensions of prosocial moral development. In this volume, these three dimensions are brought together while providing the first comprehensive account of prosocial moral development in children. The main concept is empathy - one feels what is appropriate for another person's situation, not one's own. Hoffman discusses empathy's role in five moral situations. The book's focus is empathy's contribution to altruism and compassion for others in physical, psychological, or economic distress. Also highlighted are the psychological processes involved in empathy's interaction with certain parental behaviors that foster moral internalization in children and the psychological processes involved in empathy's relation to abstract moral principles such as caring and distributive justice. This important book is the culmination of three decades of study and research by a leading figure in the area of child and developmental psychology.
Part I. From There to Here - Theoretical Background: 1. From visiousness to viciousness: theories of intergroup relations 2. Social dominance theory as a new synthesis Part II. Oppression and its Psycho-Ideological Elements: 3. The psychology of group dominance: social dominance orientation 4. Let's both agree that you're really stupid: the power of consensual ideology Part III. The Circle of Oppression - The Myriad Expressions of Institutional Discrimination: 5. You stay in your part of town and I'll stay in mine: discrimination in the housing and retail markets 6. They're just too lazy to work: discrimination in the labor market 7. They're just mentally and physically unfit: discrimination in education and health care 8. The more of 'them' in prison, the better: institutional terror, social control and the dynamics of the criminal justice system Part IV. Oppression as a Cooperative Game: 9. Social hierarchy and asymmetrical group behavior: social hierarchy and group difference in behavior 10. Sex and power: the intersecting political psychologies of patriarchy and empty-set hierarchy 11. Epilogue.