Effects of social presence on behavioral, neural, and physiological aspects of empathy for pain

Pauline Petereit, Ronja Weiblen, Anat Perry, Ulrike M. Krämer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Abstract

In mediated interactions (e.g. video calls), less information is available about the other. To investigate how this affects our empathy for one another, we conducted an electroencephalogram study, in which 30 human participants observed 1 of 5 targets undergoing painful electric stimulation, once in a direct interaction and once in a live, video-mediated interaction. We found that observers were as accurate in judging others’ pain and showed as much affective empathy via video as in a direct encounter. While mu suppression, a common neural marker of empathy, was not sensitive to others’ pain, theta responses to others’ pain as well as skin conductance coupling between participants were reduced in the video-mediated condition. We conclude that physical proximity with its rich social cues is important for nuanced physiological resonance with the other’s experience. More studies are warranted to confirm these results and to understand their behavioral significance for remote social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume33
Issue number18
Pages (from-to)9954-9970
Number of pages17
ISSN1047-3211
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15.09.2023

Cite this