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Implicit and explicit racial bias, self-reported empathy and empathic responses to physical pain modulated by racial cues

Grant number: 16/17242-5
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate (Direct)
Effective date (Start): October 01, 2016
Effective date (End): August 31, 2018
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Psychology - Physiological Psychology
Principal Investigator:Ana Alexandra Caldas Osório
Grantee:Julia Horta Tabosa do Egito
Host Institution: Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde (CCBS). Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie (UPM). Instituto Presbiteriano Mackenzie. São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:14/06777-0 - Oxytocin and racial bias: impact of the intranasal administration of oxytocin on empathy to physical pain and threat perceptions in racial contexts, AP.JP


Empathy is a fundamental aspect of social behavior that helps us to be in tune with the emotional states of those around us. It is a subjective experience of similarity between one's own feelings and the feelings of others, whereby an observer experiences and shares the feelings of a target (Decety and Jackson, 2006). However, evidence suggests that empathic reactions are not indiscriminate, but rather modulated by the similarity and proximity the observer perceives in the target. Indeed, several neuroimaging studies document a more intense neuronal response following the observation of facial expressions of pain by models of the same race as the subject, rather than a distinct race (Sheng et al, 2013; Sheng and Han, 2012). In their study, Avenanti, Sirigu and Aglioti (2010) went even further, showing that racial cues modulated empathy even regarding the observation of simple stimuli, such as hands. These authors found a higher neurophysiological reactivity (measured by motor evoked potentials) in subjects who observed painful stimulation being applied to hands of the same (vs. other) race. Racial stereotypes are prevalent phenomena in various cultures of the world, affecting, often automatically, the thoughts and feelings toward individuals of the same and of different races (Amodio et al., 2004; Devine, 1989; Sheng & Han, 2012). However, it remains unclear how empathic self-reports interact with the levels of implicit and explicit racial bias, in turn resulting in empathic behavioral differences. This study aims to analyze the relationships between explicit and implicit racial preferences in a sample of healthy subjects, their empathy self-reports and their empathic responses to physical pain in others belonging to their own racial group or to a distinct group. To this end, we will analyze performances in the Implicit Association Test (Race) - IAT (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998), scores in the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983) and responses to Avenanti, Sirigu and Aglioti's task (2010), which evaluates cortical excitability in response to the observation of painful stimulation being applied to hands of one's own racial group or of a distinct racial group. Therefore, we propose two distinct models explaining empathy to physical pain regarding a) stimuli of the same race of the subject and b) stimuli belonging to a different race. Concerning the first model (a), we anticipate that self-reported empathy will predict empathy to physical pain towards people of the same racial group as the subject. In the second model (b), we will test a partial mediation model where, beyond the direct relationship between empathy self-reports and empathy to physical pain (towards people from a different race), there will also be an indirect relationship, mediated by lower racial bias as measured by the IAT. (AU)

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Scientific publications
(References retrieved automatically from Web of Science and SciELO through information on FAPESP grants and their corresponding numbers as mentioned in the publications by the authors)
EGITO, JULIA H.; NEVAT, MICHAEL; SHAMAY-TSOORY, SIMONE G.; OSORIO, ANA ALEXANDRA C.. Oxytocin increases the social salience of the outgroup in potential threat contexts. Hormones and Behavior, v. 122, . (16/17242-5, 14/06777-0)
TABOSA DO EGITO, JULIA HORTA; RIBEIRO FERREIRA, GABRIELLE MARTINS; GONCALVES, MANOELA IZIDORO; CALDAS OSORIO, ANA ALEXANDRA. Brief Report: Factor Analysis of the Brazilian Version of the Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient. JOURNAL OF AUTISM AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS, v. 48, n. 5, p. 1847-1853, . (16/17242-5)

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