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Interpersonal Neural Dynamics Underlying Empathy and Shared Experience


In empathy toward emotional distress, the relationship between empathizer and empathy target may change dependent upon whether empathizers have personal experience with the emotionally distressing event, representing a shared experience between empathizer and empathy target. This research explored the neural and behavioral correlates of two key empathy-related processes, empathic concern and personal distress, as they pertain to shared experience. These processes were examined for empathy for an emotionally distressing event (e.g., the loss of a loved one) in empathizers who themselves had prior experience with losing a loved one compared to empathizers with no experience with loss. In addition to shared experience, Paper 1 examined neural correlates of empathic concern and personal distress using functional near-infrared imagery (fNIRS), and also explored how empathic concern, personal distress, and shared experience each relate to the likelihood of offering support as well as quality of any support offered. Paper 2 examined neural synchrony between empathizers and a storyteller empathy target as it pertained to shared vs. non-shared experience with losing a loved one. Paper 2 also tested the effects of a mindful attention intervention on empathic concern and personal distress, with the goal of reducing personal distress while maintaining empathic concern. Contributions to social neuroscience research and implications for support providers are discussed.

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