Neurocognitive Basis of Racial Ingroup Bias in Empathy

Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 May;22(5):400-421. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.02.013. Epub 2018 Mar 18.


Racial discrimination in social behavior, although disapproved of by many contemporary cultures, has been widely reported. Because empathy plays a key functional role in social behavior, brain imaging researchers have extensively investigated the neurocognitive underpinnings of racial ingroup bias in empathy. This research has revealed consistent evidence for increased neural responses to the perceived pain of same-race compared with other-race individuals in multiple brain regions and across multiple time-windows. Researchers have also examined neurocognitive, sociocultural, and environmental influences on racial ingroup bias in empathic neural responses, as well as explored possible interventions to reduce racial ingroup bias in empathic brain activity. These findings have important implications for understanding racial ingroup favoritism in social behavior and for improving interracial communication.

Keywords: Empathy; event-related potential; functional MRI; ingroup bias; race.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Group Processes*
  • Humans
  • Pain Perception / physiology
  • Racism* / psychology
  • Social Perception