How empathically people respond to a stranger’s pain or pleasure does not only depend on the situational context, individual traits and intentions, but also on interindividual factors. Here we ask whether empathic responses towards unknown others are modulated by behavioural similarity as a potential marker of genetic relatedness. Participants watched two supposed human players who were modelled as having a strong (player LP) or weak (player NLP) tendency to lead in social situations executing penalty shots in a virtual reality robot soccer game. As predicted, empathic response were modulated by shared behavioural traits: participants whose tendency to lead was more similar to player LP’s tendency to lead experienced more reward, and showed stronger neural activity in reward-related brain regions, when they saw player LP score a goal, and participants whose tendency to lead was more similar to player NLP’s tendency to lead showed stronger empathic responses when they saw player NLP score a goal. These findings highlight the potentially evolutionary grounded role of phenotypic similarity for neural processes underlying human social perception.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)