Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Empathy? Surprising study shows that brains process the pain of villains more than the pain of people we like

Date:
October 16, 2013
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
A counterintuitive findings from a new study show that the part of the brain that is associated with empathizing with the pain of others is activated more strongly by watching the suffering of hateful people as opposed to likable people.

A counterintuitive findings from a new study show that the part of the brain that is associated with empathizing with the pain of others is activated more strongly by watching the suffering of hateful people as opposed to likable people.
Credit: eugenesergeev / Fotolia

A counterintuitive findings from a new USC study show that the part of the brain that is associated with empathizing with the pain of others is activated more strongly by watching the suffering of hateful people as opposed to likable people.

While one might assume that we would empathize more with people we like, the study may indicate that the human brain focuses more greatly on the need to monitor enemies closely, especially when they are suffering.

"When you watch an action movie and the bad guy appears to be defeated, the moment of his demise draws our focus intensely," said Lisa Aziz-Zadeh of the Brain and Creativity Institute of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "We watch him closely to see whether he's really down for the count, because it's critical for predicting his potential for retribution in the future."

Aziz-Zadeh, who has a joint appointment with the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, collaborated with lead author Glenn Fox, a PhD candidate at USC; and Mona Sobhani, formerly a grad student at USC and who is now a post-doctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University, on a study that appears in Frontiers in Psychology this month.

The study examined activity in the so-called "pain matrix" of the brain, a network that includes the insula cortex, the anterior cingulate, and the somatosensory cortices -- regions known to activate when an individual watches another person suffer.

The pain matrix is thought to be a related to empathy -- allowing us to understand another's pain. However, this study indicates that the pain matrix may be more involved in processing pain in general, and not necessarily tied to empathic processing.

Participants -- all of them white, male, and Jewish -- first watched videos of hateful, anti-Semitic individuals in pain and then other videos of tolerant, non-hateful individuals in pain. Their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to show activity levels in the pain matrix.

Surprisingly, the participants' pain matrices were more activated by watching the anti-Semites suffer compared to the tolerant individuals.

"The results further revealed the brain's flexibility in processing complex social situations." said Fox. "The brain uses the complete context of the situation to mount an appropriate response. In this case, the brain's response is likely tied to the relative increase in the need to attend to and understand the pain of the hateful person."

A possible next step for the researchers will be to try to understand how regulating one's emotional reaction to stimuli such as these alters the resulting patterns of brain activity.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Glenn Ryan Fox, Mona Sobhani and Lisa Aziz-zadeh. Witnessing hateful people in pain modulates brain activity in regions associated with physical pain and reward. Front. Psychol, 2013 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00772

Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. "Empathy? Surprising study shows that brains process the pain of villains more than the pain of people we like." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132256.htm>.
University of Southern California. (2013, October 16). Empathy? Surprising study shows that brains process the pain of villains more than the pain of people we like. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132256.htm
University of Southern California. "Empathy? Surprising study shows that brains process the pain of villains more than the pain of people we like." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016132256.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins