Exploring the effects of visual perspective on the ERP components of empathy for pain
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Previous neurophysiological research suggests that there are event-related potential (ERP) components associated with empathy for pain: an early affective component (N2) and two late cognitive components (P3/LPP). The current study investigated whether and how the visual perspective from which a painful event is observed affects these ERP components. Participants viewed images of hands in pain vs. not in pain from a first-person or third-person perspective. We found that visual perspective influences both the early and late components. In the early component (N2), there was a larger mean amplitude during observation of pain vs no-pain exclusively when images were shown from a first-person perspective. We suggest that this effect may be driven by misattributing the on-screen hand to oneself. For the late component (P3), we found a larger effect of pain on mean amplitudes in response to third-person relative to first-person images. We speculate that the P3 may reflect a later process that enables effective recognition of others' pain in the absence of misattribution. We discuss our results in relation to self- vs other-related processing by questioning whether these ERP components are truly indexing empathy (an other-directed process) or a simple misattribution of another's pain as one's own (a self-directed process).
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