Electroencephalographic α-band and β-band correlates of perspective-taking and personal distress

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Perspective-taking and personal distress are argued to play contrasting roles in empathic processing, with perspective-taking promoting empathic concern and personal distress promoting egoistic motivations. Previous research has shown that emotionally negative valence imagery induced α and β power changes relative to neutral imagery and that α activity relates inversely to empathy. We therefore investigated the hypothesis that enhanced β is associated with personal distress and is accompanied by a correlation between α and perspective-taking. Participants viewed negative and neutral valence images from the International Affective Picture System and made judgments about their levels of concern for humans in each image. As predicted, greater β enhancement was associated with higher personal distress, whereas greater α-band suppression was associated with lower perspective-taking abilities. We suggest that these data support Batson’s Empathy–Altruism hypothesis in which failure to adopt another person’s perspective is related to greater personal distress.

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