Increasing self–other similarity modulates ethnic bias in sensorimotor resonance to others’ pain

Ville Johannes Harjunen, Petja Sjö, Imtiaj Ahmed, Aino Saarinen, Harry Farmer, Mikko Salminen, Simo Järvelä, Antti Ruonala, Giulio Jacucci, Niklas Ravaja

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The tendency to simulate the pain of others within our own sensorimotor systems is a vital component of empathy. However, this sensorimotor resonance is modulated by a multitude of social factors including similarity in bodily appearance, e.g. skin colour. The current study investigated whether increasing self-other similarity via virtual transfer to another colour body reduced ingroup bias in sensorimotor resonance. A sample of 58 white participants was momentarily transferred to either a black or a white body using virtual reality technology. We then employed electroencephalography (EEG) to examine event-related desynchronization (ERD) in the sensorimotor beta (13-23 Hz) oscillations while they viewed black, white, and violet photorealistic virtual agents being touched with a noxious or soft object. While the noxious treatment of a violet agent did not increase beta ERD, amplified beta ERD in response to black agent's noxious vs. soft treatment was found in perceivers transferred to black body. Transfer to the white body dismissed the effect. Further exploratory analysis implied that the pain-related beta ERD occurred only when the agent and the participant were of the same colour. The results suggest that even short-lasting changes in bodily resemblance can modulate sensorimotor resonance to others' perceived pain.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Oct 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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