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Through a Mirror Darkly: Shedding Light on Individual Differences in the Neural Correlates of Empathy

Southworth, Steven (2018) Through a Mirror Darkly: Shedding Light on Individual Differences in the Neural Correlates of Empathy. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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The aim of this thesis was to explore individual differences in the neural correlates of empathy. This was achieved over the course of three experimental studies to gain a better understanding of mirror neuron activity as a putative index of empathy and its relationship with self-report measures of empathy. In the first study we built upon the existing literature by exposing participants to two EEG protocols. Findings demonstrated a more reactive mirror neuron system in response to crying relative to laughing sounds and to painful relative to non-painful imagery. We also found inverse relationships with empathy that could be related to expertise. In our second study we examined the long-term effect of loving-kindness meditation (compared to controls) on empathy by comparing the mirror neuron activity from three EEG protocols. It is argued that we found meaningful differences in mirror neuron activity (for each protocol) that might again be explained by an expertise effect. The final study investigated the potential effect of power-posing on empathy as measured by both EEG and behavioural tasks. Findings demonstrated that those in an open pose (counter to predictions) actually performed better on an empathic accuracy task than those in a closed or control posture. In terms of mirror neuron activity, we find no conclusive evidence to suggest that open posing has a negative effect on empathy, however again we see evidence to suggest that expertise might be driving our data.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: empathy, electroencephalography, eeg, pain, meditation, compassion, mirror neuron, alpha, beta, mu, empathy quotient, interpersonal reactivity index, posture, power, emotion, individual differences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health > Psychology, Department of
Depositing User: Steven Southworth
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2018 12:37
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2018 12:37

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