Positive experiences increase empathy

London, Dec 22 (IANS) Positive experiences with people from another group trigger a learning effect in the brain, which increases empathy, reveals a new study.

The researchers wanted to measure brain activation in participants who had positive experiences with a member of their own group (in-group member) or another group (out-group member).

A study was conducted to examine whether empathy with strangers can be learned and how positive experiences with others influence empathic brain responses.

During the test, the participants expected to receive painful shocks to the backs of their hands.

However, they also discovered that a member of their own or another group could pay money to spare them pain.

The brain activation while observing pain in a person from one’s own or another group was recorded before and after these experiences.

At the beginning of the study, the stranger’s pain triggered weaker brain activation in the participant than if a member of his or her own group was affected.

Only a handful of positive experiences with someone from the stranger’s group led to a significant increase in empathic brain responses if pain was inflicted on a different person from the out-group.

“These results reveal that positive experiences with a stranger are transferred to other members of this group and increase the empathy for them,” said one of the researcher Grit Hein from University of Zurich in Switzerland

The stronger the positive experience with the stranger was, the greater was the increase in neuronal empathy, the research indicated.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

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