Social Exclusion Down-Regulates Pain Empathy at the Late Stage of Empathic Responses: Electrophysiological Evidence

Abstract

Social exclusion has a significant impact on cognition, emotion, and behavior. Some behavioral studies investigated how social exclusion affects pain empathy. Conclusions were inconsistent, and there is a lack of clarity in identifying which component of pain empathy is more likely to be affected. To investigate these issues, we used a Cyberball task to manipulate feelings of social exclusion. Two groups participated in the same pain empathy task while we recorded event-related potentials when participants viewed static images of body parts in painful and neutral situations. The results showed early N2 differentiation between painful and neutral pictures in the central regions in both groups. The pattern at the late controlled processing stage was different. Parietal P3 amplitudes for painful pictures were significantly smaller than those for neutral pictures in the social exclusion group; they did not differ in the social inclusion group. We observed a parietal late positive potential differentiation between painful and neutral pictures in both groups. LPP amplitudes were significantly smaller in the social exclusion group than those in the social inclusion group for painful stimuli. Our results indicate that social exclusion does not affect empathic responses during the early emotional sharing stage. However, it down-regulates empathic responses at the late cognitive controlled stage, and this modulation is attenuated gradually. The current study provides neuroscientific evidence of how social exclusion dynamically influences pain empathy.

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Wei Chen
Huazhong University of Science & Technology

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