The Effects of Caricatured Faces on Neural Signatures of Empathy

McFadyen, Jessica Jean (2014). The Effects of Caricatured Faces on Neural Signatures of Empathy Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author McFadyen, Jessica Jean
Thesis Title The Effects of Caricatured Faces on Neural Signatures of Empathy
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2014-10-08
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Ross Cunnington
Total pages 117
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Abstract/Summary Previous neurological research on empathy has revealed a marked increase in cortical activation in response to seeing others experiencing pain. Remarkably, this signature of empathy is absent when the observed person is of a different race to the observer. It is not clear whether this racial bias in empathy is due to social group categorisation of race or to differences in perceptual exposure between own- and other-race faces. This study aimed to investigate how the extremeness or averageness of a face’s spatial configuration affects empathy by using Caricatured and Anticaricatured Caucasian faces, respectively. We recruited 20 Caucasian participants who underwent electroencephalography (EEG) while viewing the two types of faces. These faces were presented in three different conditions: 1) Control; the face alone, 2) Pain; the face depicted as receiving a painful touch to the cheek by a needle, or 3) No Pain; the face depicted as receiving a non-painful touch by a Q-tip. The results revealed two distinct components of empathy, where participants’ cortical activity was greater in response to the Pain condition than the No Pain condition. The early component was the VPP, occurring at approximately 150ms over fronto-central regions, and the late component was the P3, occurring from 400-600ms over midlineposterior regions. Caricatures elicited a negative shift in the waveform over bilateral occipito-temporal regions, influencing the N170, P2, and N250 components. Most importantly, empathy at the VPP and P3 components was evident and equal for both Caricatured and Anticaricatured faces, indicating no modulation of empathy by face type. Thus, empathy is not likely sensitive to the typicality of face spatial and so this is an unlikely mechanism for the racial bias in empathy. It is suggested that future research examines how other perceptual factors, such as distinctiveness and textural information, may influence empathy so that we can better understand the extent to which the racial bias in empathy is due to perception as separate from social factors.
Keyword Empathy

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Created: Thu, 28 May 2015, 13:45:46 EST by Louise Grainger on behalf of School of Psychology