Please empathize! Instructions to empathise strengthen response facilitation after pain observation
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Recent research has shown that observing others in pain leads to a general facilitation of reaction times. The current study sheds further light on the relationship between pain observation and reaction time by exploring how bottom-up processes, in the form of perceived pain intensity, and top-down processes, in the form of explicit instructions to empathise, influence response facilitation after pain observation. Participants watched videos of a hand getting pierced by a needle or touched by a Q-tip. To manipulate bottom-up information, participants saw videos depicting either deep or shallow insertion of the needle. To investigate potential top-down modulation, half the participants were explicitly requested to empathise with the person in the video, while the other half were told to simply watch and attend to the video. Results from two experiments corroborate previous results showing response facilitation after pain observation. Critically, experiment 2 provides robust evidence that explicit instructions to empathise with a person in pain strengthen response facilitation. We discuss these results considering social cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology studies of empathy and pain observation.
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