I suffer more from your pain when you act like me: Being imitated enhances affective responses to seeing someone else in pain
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Social–psychological research has suggested that being imitated changes the way that we experience others: We like someone who imitates us more, and the interaction with this person runs more smoothly. Whether being imitated also affects basic social reactions, such as empathy for pain, is an open question. Empathy for pain refers to the observation that perceiving another person in pain results in pain-related brain activation in the observer. The aim of the present study was to combine the two lines of research, to investigate whether being imitated can influence empathy for pain. To this end, we developed an experimental approach combining an imitation task with a pain perception task. Subjective reports, as well as physiological responses, indicated that being imitated enhances affective responses to seeing someone else in pain. Furthermore, using rubber hand illusion measures, we provided evidence for the role of shared representations in the sensory and motor domains as a core underlying mechanism. In this way, our study integrated social–psychological research on being imitated with cognitive research on empathy for pain. This has broad implications, since imitation plays a crucial role in our daily social interactions, and our study provides insights into a basic cognitive mechanism that might underlie these social situations.
KeywordsImitation Empathy for pain Shared representations Startle blink reflex Skin conductance Rubber hand illusion
This research was supported by Research Foundation Flanders Grant No. FWO10/ASP/321 to the first author.
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