Logo der Universität Wien

New paper by Livia Tomova, Jasminka Majdandžić, Claus Lamm et al.

Tuesday, 11. April 2017

Tomova, L.; Majdandžić, J.; Hummer, A.; Windischberger, C.; Heinrichs, M.;  Lamm, C. (2017). Increased neural responses to empathy for pain might explain how acute stress increases prosociality. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2017) 12 (3): 401-408. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw146.


Recent behavioral investigations suggest that acute stress can increase prosocial behavior. Here, we investigated whether increased empathy represents a potential mechanism for this finding. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we assessed the effects of acute stress on neural responses related to automatic and regulatory components of empathy for pain as well as subsequent prosocial behavior. Stress increased activation in brain areas associated with the automatic sharing of others’ pain, such as the anterior insula, the anterior midcingulate cortex, and the primary somatosensory cortex. In addition, we found increased prosocial behavior under stress. Furthermore, activation in the anterior midcingulate cortex mediated the effects of stress on prosocial behavior.

However, stressed participants also displayed stronger and inappropriate other-related responses in situations which required them to take the perspective of another person, and to regulate their automatic affective responses. Thus, while acute stress may increase prosocial behavior by intensifying the sharing of others’ emotions, this comes at the cost of reduced cognitive appraisal abilities. Depending on the contextual constraints, stress may therefore affect empathy in ways that are either beneficial or detrimental.

You can find the whole article here.

Faculty of Psychology
University of Vienna

Liebiggasse 5
1010 Wien
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0
Lastupdate: 08.05.2012 - 14:29