Exploring the relationship between social power and the ERP components of empathy for pain
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Social power (the ability to control or influence another's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors) and empathy (the ability to both share and understand the thoughts and feelings of others) are fundamental to social life. Here, we explore the relationship between social power and the ERP components associated with empathy for pain. Participants were induced into states of high and low social power via a double blind version of the episodic recall task (e.g., "recall a time you felt powerful"). Afterward, they completed a pain categorization task, viewing pictures of hands that were in pain or not in pain, from a first-person or third-person visual perspective. Whereas both high and low social power states were associated with enhanced N2 amplitudes when observing another in pain, only the high social power state was associated with an enhancement of the P3. Based on this pattern of data, we tentatively suggest that, whereas social power does not seem to impact the initial emotional response to observing another's pain (as indexed by the N2), low social power might induce changes in the cognitive evaluation of another's pain relative to high social power (as indexed by the P3). We discuss our findings in relation to the broader literature on power and empathy.
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