Can You Feel Their Pain? An ERP Investigation Of The Influence Of Stigma On Pain Empathy

Document Type

Poster Session

Publication Date


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There is great disparity in the quality of treatment patients receive based purely on their social identities. The aim of the current study was to understand how social information, specifically stigma, affects perception, evaluation, and treatment of pain. Participants imagined their job was to monitor patients in an emergency room. Using event-related potentials (ERPs) we compared P300 responses to stigmatized and non-stigmatized patients with painful expressions using an oddball paradigm. P300 responses were stronger to stigmatized (vs. non-stigmatized) patients in pain, regardless of stigma type. However, this pattern of bias was moderated by individual differences in empathic concern, such that highly empathic participants had stronger P300 responses overall and did not differentiate between stigmatized and non-stigmatized patients in pain, whereas less empathic participants had stronger P300 responses to stigmatized (vs. non-stigmatized) patients in pain. In addition, we observed stigma-related implicit and explicit biases during character trait rating, pain rating, and treatment recommendation tasks, also moderated by empathy. Overall, our results suggest that individuals low in empathy (e.g., physicians; Decety, Yang, and Chen, 2010) are more susceptible to developing neural biases in pain perception based on stigma, which may ultimately lead to discriminatory treatment based on a patient’s stigmatized status.


Stigma, Pain Empathy, P300


Fifty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research

Conference Dates

September 25-29, 2019

Conference Location

Washington, DC

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