Culture and Brain

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 122–130 | Cite as

Social class affects neural empathic responses

  • Michael E. W. Varnum
  • Chris Blais
  • Ryan S. Hampton
  • Gene A. Brewer
Original Research


The present study tested whether socioeconomic status (SES) was linked to differences in the strength of neural empathic responses. Following previous research we measured fronto-central P2 responses to images of neutral faces and faces expressing pain. As predicted we found that higher SES was linked to diminished neural empathic responses. Interestingly, higher SES was positively correlated with self-reported trait empathy, suggesting that those higher in status may not realize that they are actually lower in empathy. Implications and future directions for research on empathy, altruism, and prosocial behavior are discussed.


SES Social class Empathy ERP P2 



The authors wish to thank Katja Cunningham for her aid in data collection and Zhenhao Shi for his aid in conducting an earlier pilot with the first author at Peking University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael E. W. Varnum
    • 1
  • Chris Blais
    • 1
  • Ryan S. Hampton
    • 1
  • Gene A. Brewer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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