Do you feel my pain? Racial group membership modulates empathic neural responses

J Neurosci. 2009 Jul 1;29(26):8525-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2418-09.2009.


The pain matrix including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) mediates not only first person pain experience but also empathy for others' pain. It remains unknown, however, whether empathic neural responses of the pain matrix are modulated by racial in-group/out-group relationship. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we demonstrate that, whereas painful stimulations applied to racial in-group faces induced increased activations in the ACC and inferior frontal/insula cortex in both Caucasians and Chinese, the empathic neural response in the ACC decreased significantly when participants viewed faces of other races. Our findings uncover neural mechanisms of an empathic bias toward racial in-group members.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping
  • Carbamide Peroxide
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Drug Combinations
  • Empathy*
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Peroxides / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Urea / analogs & derivatives
  • Urea / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Drug Combinations
  • Peroxides
  • Carbamide Peroxide
  • Urea