The Role of Acute Pain in the Elicitation of Empathy Open Access

Meyer, Allison Elizabeth (2011)

Permanent URL:


The Role of Acute Pain in the Elicitation of Empathy
By Allison E. Meyer
Empathy is the capacity to understand vicariously the physical or emotional or emotional
experiences of another person and is crucial to human relationships. It comprises three
components: an affective response, cognitive perspective-taking and regulation of vicarious
emotion. A high degree of empathy for others' pain may result in pain for oneself, and evidence
suggests that the affective component of empathy may be related to pain at a neural level. It was
hypothesized that participants assigned to the pain condition would report stronger feelings of
empathy for another person than those assigned to the control condition. It was also hypothesized
that dispositional empathy and emotion regulation skills would relate to reports of state empathy
and personal distress. To test these hypotheses, adult females (n = 30) were randomly assigned to
either the pain or no-pain condition. Pain was induced using the cold pressor task, in which
participants are asked to submerge their hand in a cold-water bath for thirty seconds after they
first report feeling pain. After participating in the experimental conditions, the participants
viewed a brief video clip of a character experiencing physical pain, all participants reported
feelings of empathy and personal distress. Results did not support the hypotheses. There were no
significant differences in empathy between condition, and participants assigned to the pain
condition reported significantly lower levels of personal distress. Regression analyses did not
provide support for the notion that dispositional empathy or emotion regulation skills impact
state empathy or level of personal distress following participation in the experimental conditions.
Attention processes may account for the differences in personal distress across the conditions.
Findings, study limitations, and implications are discussed.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Introduction 1
Methods 8
Results 12
Discussion 13
References 18
Tables 24

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files