ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (8): 971-980.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2015.00971

Previous Articles     Next Articles

The ERP Evidence of Modulation of Situation Reality on Empathy for Sadness

YAN Zhiying1,2; LU Jiamei2   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China)
    (2 College of Education, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China)
  • Received:2013-02-01 Published:2015-08-25 Online:2015-08-25
  • Contact: LU Jiamei, E-mail:


 This study adopted empathy induced by sadness which is a kind of true human emotions as research object, using true and observable earthquake situation pictures with strong social reality meaning as stimuli materials. Based on the neuroscience perspective, previous research on empathy was mainly limited to sensation (especially pain), and the present study broke those limitations. With the event-related potential technologies and the picture perception paradigms, we explored whether the extent of situation reality could modulate empathy for sadness.

Fourteen right handed undergraduate and postgraduate students (7 males and 7 females) were recruited to take part in the study. Participants were presented with earthquake pictures (sad stimulus) or life pictures (neutral stimulus) that were in real or film situation which was formed through instructions. Participants were instructed to view naturally.
The behavioral results showed that subjective empathic response which induced by the real earthquake situation pictures was more intense than that induced by the film earthquake situation pictures. The ERP results showed early differentiation between earthquake and life pictures over the frontal-central area at 180 ms after sensory stimulation and a long-latency empathic response was observed after 300 ms over the central–parietal regions. The late empathic response was modulated by situation reality. Moreover, the mean ERP amplitudes induced by the film and real earthquake situation pictures at 160~180 ms and 300~350 ms were respectively correlated with the subjective reports of the degree of perceived sadness of self.

These results suggest that empathy research can be pushed to empathy for sadness with real emotional characteristics. Earthquake situation pictures can be used as experiment materials that induced empathy for sadness. The different degrees of situational realities formed by the cognitive evaluation which is based on induction can modulate the empathy for sadness and it happens in the late stage of finely controlled processing period.

Key words: situation, empathy, sadness, cognitive evaluation, ERP