The Effects of Empathy for Negative Emotional States on Pain Sensitivity

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Title: The Effects of Empathy for Negative Emotional States on Pain Sensitivity
Author: Church, Rebecca A.
Advisor: Sternberg, Wendy
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Psychology
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: Feeling pain and empathizing with another's pain are common human experiences. When observing another person in physical pain, people's pain sensitivity increases. Physical pain, ostracism and embarrassment are all negative emotional states. The present study seeks to clarify whether enhanced pain sensitivity is unique to empathy for physical pain or is a general response to empathy for negative affective states by exploring whether empathy for ostracism and empathy for embarrassment temporarily heighten pain sensitivity. After baseline pain testing using thermal scaling, cold pressor, and heat threshold measures, participants watched a series of empathy-inducing vignettes and then underwent the same pain testing. The study did not find empathy for physical pain or embarrassment, but there was some evidence that empathy for ostracism enhanced pain sensitivity. Women reported higher pain ratings and lower pain thresholds than men. Trait empathy correlated positively with pain sensitivity, but this relationship was heavily modulated by sex. The disconnect between imaging studies and behavioral studies in the empathy for pain literature is addressed.
Subject: Interpersonal relations -- Psychological aspects
Subject: Pain -- Psychological aspects
Subject: Pain -- Effect of empathy on
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Church, Rebecca A.. "The Effects of Empathy for Negative Emotional States on Pain Sensitivity". 2011. Available electronically from

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