Our brains synchronise during a conversation

The rhythms of brainwaves between two people having a conversation begin to synchronize, concludes a study published in Scientific Reports, led by the Basque research centre BCBL. According to scientists, this interbrain synchrony may be a key factor in understanding language and interpersonal communication.

Until now, most traditional research had suggested the hypothesis that the brain “synchronises” according to what is heard, and correspondingly adjusts its rhythms to auditory stimuli. Now, experts from this Donostia-based research centre have gone a step further and simultaneously analysed the complex neuronal activity of two strangers who hold a dialogue for the first time.

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Posted in Brains, Conversations | Tagged ,

Growing up in disadvantaged areas may affect teens’ brains

New research has found growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood may have negative effects on children’s brain development. But for males, at least, positive parenting negated these negative effects, providing some good lessons for parents.

Living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood (where there are more people who have low income jobs or are unemployed, are less educated, and have less access to resources) can cause stress, and has been linked with psychological and social problems in children and adolescents.

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Posted in Brains, Socioeconomic status, Teenagers | Tagged , ,

The role of touch during Empathy for pain

The human ability to synchronize with other individuals is critical for the development of social behavior. Recent research has shown that physiological inter-personal synchronization may underlie behavioral synchrony. Nevertheless, the factors that modulate physiological coupling are still largely unknown. Here we suggest that social touch and empathy for pain may enhance  interpersonal  physiological coupling. Twenty-two romantic couples were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver)`and observer (pain observer) under pain/no-pain and touch/no-touch conditions, and their ECG and respiration rates were recorded. The results indicate that the partner touch increased interpersonal respiration coupling under both pain and no-pain conditions and increased heart rate coupling under pain conditions. In addition, physiological coupling was diminished by pain in the absence of the partner’s touch. Critically, we found that high partner’s empathy and high levels of analgesia enhanced coupling during the partner’s touch. Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardiorespiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.

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Posted in Empathy | Tagged

On Empathy and utilitarian judgement across socioeconomic status

Research by Côté, Piff, and Willer (2013) found that through the induction of empathy in an experimental condition, the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and utilitarian moral judgment was diminished. Participant self-reported income interacted with an experimental condition such that high SES participants who empathized with a disadvantaged group member redistributed fewer experimental dollars during an online task at the losing member’s expense. This suggests that lower levels of empathy could help explain utilitarian decision-making in high SES individuals. Two pre-registered, high-powered replications were conducted in order to assess the magnitude and reliability of this finding. While the first replication attempt failed to uncover the effect, the second attempt found a pattern consistent with the original study. A meta-analysis of the replication attempts with the original author’s interaction effects was conducted. The confidence interval of the meta-analytic effect suggests that the true effect size may be as robust as reported by the original authors, or may be close to zero. Implications of the results found in the replication attempts are discussed.

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Posted in Empathy, Socioeconomic, Socioeconomic status | Tagged , ,

Physiological dynamics of stress contagion

Can viewing others experiencing stress create a “contagious” physiological stress response in the observer? To investigate second-hand stress, we first created a stimulus set of videos, which featured participants speaking under either minimal stress, high stress, or while recovering from stress. We then recruited a second set of participants to watch these videos. All participants (speakers and observers) were monitored via electrocardiogram. Cardiac activity of the observers while watching the videos was then analyzed and compared to that of the speakers. Furthermore, we assessed dispositional levels of empathy in observers to determine how empathy might be related to the degree of stress contagion. Results revealed that depending on the video being viewed, observers experienced differential changes in cardiac activity that were based on the speaker’s stress level. Additionally, this is the first demonstration that individuals high in dispositional empathy experience these physiological changes more quickly.

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Posted in Empathy, Stress | Tagged ,

Empathy promotes Altruistic behavior in economic interactions

What are the determinants of altruism? While economists assume that altruism is mainly driven by fairness norms, social psychologists consider empathy to be a key motivator for altruistic behavior. To unite these two theories, we conducted an experiment in which we compared behavior in a standard economic game that assesses altruism (the so-called Dictator Game) with a Dictator Game in which participants’ behavioral choices were preceded either by an empathy induction or by a control condition without empathy induction. The results of this within-subject manipulation show that the empathy induction substantially increased altruistic behavior.  Moreover, the increase in experienced empathy predicted over 40% of the increase in sharing behavior. These data extend standard economic theories that altruism is based on fairness considerations, by showing that empathic feelings can be a key motivator for altruistic behavior in economic interactions.

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Posted in Altruism, Economy, Empathy | Tagged , ,

The Neuroscience of Empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise

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.

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Posted in Empathy, Neuroscience | Tagged ,

Philosophy of the Brain: The Brain Problem

“What is the mind?””What is the relationship between brain and mind?”These are common questions. But “What is the brain?” is a rare question in both the neurosciences and philosophy. The reason for this may lie in the brain itself: Is there a “brain problem”?In this fresh and innovative book, Georg Northoff demonstrates that there is in fact a “brain problem.” He argues that our brain can only be understood when its empirical functions are directly related to the modes of acquiring knowledge, our epistemic abilities and inabilities. Drawing on the latest neuroscientific data and philosophical theories, he provides an empirical-epistemic definition of the brain. Northoff reveals the basic conceptual confusion about the relationship between mind and brain that has so obstinately been lingering in both neuroscience and philosophy. He subsequently develops an alternative framework where the integration of the brain within body and environment is central. This novel approach plunges the reader into the depths of our own brain. The “Philosophy of the Brain” that emerges opens the door to a fascinating world of new findings that explore the mind and its relationship to our very human brain.

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Posted in Brain, Philosophy, Philosophy of mind | Tagged , ,

Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain

Empathy is putting oneself in another’s emotional and cognitive shoes and then acting appropriately. The evolutionary process has given rise to a hard-wired neural system, described as “the most radical of human emotions, that equips us to connect with one another. But this critical connection has been short-circuited by the dynamic convergence of culture, politics and the brain under the hegemonic influence of neoliberal capitalism. The book explores this process through sections on education, the neoliberal state, neuromarketing, corporations, militarization, mass culture, film, photo images and media. How does the system blunt, bracket off and or otherwise channel empathy’s revolutionary potential? What does this reveal about how the world works and especially, how it might work better? Empathy Imperiled offers a provocative, empirically grounded dissent from capitalism’s narrative about human nature. It offers a unique perspective on our current political culture and process and as such it will appeal to students and scholars in political science, psychology, anthropology, and several related fields.

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Posted in Brain, Capitalism, Culture, Empathy | Tagged , , ,

Happiness Linked to Valuing Personal Time Over Money

Valuing your time more than the pursuit of money is linked to greater happiness, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

In six studies with more than 4,600 participants, researchers found an almost even split between people who tended to value their time or money, and that choice was a fairly consistent trait both for daily interactions and major life events.

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Posted in Happiness, Money | Tagged ,