A simple action decreases empathic neural response towards others' suffering

[Speaker] Han, Xiaochun:1
[Co-author] Wu, Bing:2, Liu, Yi:1, Luo, Siyang:1, He, Kang:1, Shi, Zhenhao:1, Wei, Kunlin:1, Wu, Xinhuai:2, Shihui, Han:1
1:Peking University (China (People's Republic of China)), 2:Department of Radiology, Beijing Military General Hospital (China (People's Republic of China))

The aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis proposes that altruistic behavior can relieve the distress feelings elicited by viewing others in pain (Hoffman, 1981). The current work tested the hypotheses that perceived others' suffering motivates an individual to take actions and this reduces empathic neural response to others' pain. Study 1 measured the pressure of a button press when adults viewed others receiving painful or neutral stimulations. Study 2 measured brain responses to painful or neutral stimulations applied to others using functional MRI when participants passively viewed stimuli or pressed a button when viewing. We found that participants pressed a button harder when viewing painful vs. neutral stimulations and pressing a button compared to passively viewing decreased empathic neural responses in the midcingulate, anterior insula and somatosensory cortex. Our results indicate that viewing others' suffering motivates one to take an action and a simple action modulates brain activity in response to others' pain.
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