Training: Papers‎ > ‎

(Hein 2015)

Study Title:  How learning shapes the empathic brain
DOI or Website Link:
Date:   November 17, 2015
Deficits in empathy enhance conflicts and human suffering. Thus, it is crucial to understand how empathy can be learned and how learning experiences shape empathy-related processes in the human brain. As a model of empathy deficits, we used the well-established suppression of empathy-related brain responses for the suffering of out-groups and tested whether and how out-group empathy is boosted by a learning intervention. During this intervention, participants received costly help equally often from an out-group member (experimental group) or an in-group member (control group).

We show that receiving help from an out-group member elicits a classical learning signal (prediction error) in the anterior insular cortex. This signal in turn predicts a subsequent increase of empathy for a different out-group member (generalization). The enhancement of empathy-related insula responses by the neural prediction error signal was mediated by an establishment of positive emotions toward the out-group member. Finally, we show that surprisingly few positive learning experiences are sufficient to increase empathy. Our results specify the neural and psychological mechanisms through which learning interacts with empathy, and thus provide a neurobiological account for the plasticity of empathic reactions.

Topic Area:
 (In which field / sector / perspective was this study conducted?)

Intervention/Methods used:
 (What was the method used to train empathy?)
  • "We used a learning intervention during which participants experienced help from a member of their own social group or of a generally depreciated out-group. " Results, empathy for out-group was increased.
  • what to call this?

(Who did participated in this study / training?)

About the assessment: 
(How was the change in empathy measures before / after the intervention/method?) 

What was the result?

(Any other relevant information)