Exposure to hate speech deteriorates neurocognitive mechanisms of the ability to understand others' pain

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 13;13(1):4127. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-31146-1.


The widespread ubiquity of hate speech affects people's attitudes and behavior. Exposure to hate speech can lead to prejudice, dehumanization, and lack of empathy towards members of outgroups. However, the impact of exposure to hate speech on empathy and propensity to attribute mental states to others has never been directly tested empirically. In this fMRI study, we examine the effects of exposure to hate speech on neural mechanisms of empathy towards ingroup (Poles) versus outgroup members (Arabs). Thirty healthy young adults were randomly assigned to 2 groups: hateful and neutral. During the fMRI study, they were initially exposed to hateful or neutral comments and subsequently to narratives depicting Poles and Arabs in pain. Using whole-brain and region of interest analysis, we showed that exposure to derogatory language about migrants attenuates the brain response to someone else's pain in the right temporal parietal junction (rTPJ), irrespective of group membership (Poles or Arabs). Given that rTPJ is associated with processes relevant to perspective-taking, its reduced activity might be related to a decreased propensity to take the psychological perspective of others. This finding suggests that hate speech affects human functioning beyond intergroup relations.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology
  • Empathy
  • Hate*
  • Humans
  • Pain / psychology
  • Speech*
  • Young Adult