Riečanský, Lengersdorff, Pfabigan, Lamm


New paper: Increasing self-other bodily overlap increases sensorimotor resonance to others’ pain

Riečanský, I., Lengersdorff, L., Pfabigan, D.M., Lamm, C. (2019). Increasing self-other bodily overlap increases sensorimotor resonance to others’ pain. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, accepted for publication


Empathy for another person’s pain and feeling pain oneself seem to be accompanied by similar or
shared neural responses. Such shared responses could be achieved by mapping the bodily states of
others onto our own bodily representations. We investigated whether sensorimotor neural responses to the pain of others are increased when experimentally reducing perceived bodily distinction between
the self and the other. Healthy adult participants watched video clips of the hands of ethnic ingroup or
outgroup members being painfully penetrated by a needle syringe or touched by a cotton swab.
Manipulating the video presentation so as to create a visuospatial overlap between the observer’s and
the target’s hand increased the perceived bodily self-attribution of the target’s hand. For both ingroup
and outgroup targets, this resulted in increased neural responses to the painful injections (compared to nonpainful contacts), as indexed by desynchronizations of central mu and beta scalp rhythms recorded using electroencephalography. Furthermore, these empathy-related neural activations were stronger in participants who reported stronger bodily self-attribution of the other person’s hand. Our findings provide further evidence that empathy for pain engages sensorimotor resonance mechanisms. They also indicate that reducing bodily self-other distinction may increase such resonance for ingroup as well as outgroup targets.

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