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Compassion has been suggested to be a strong motivator for prosocial behavior. While research has demonstrated that compassion training has positive effects on mood and health, we do not know whether it also leads to increases in prosocial behavior. We addressed this question in two experiments. In Experiment 1, we introduce a new prosocial game, the Zurich Prosocial Game (ZPG), which allows for repeated, ecologically valid assessment of prosocial behavior and is sensitive to the influence of reciprocity, helping cost, and distress cues on helping behavior. Experiment 2 shows that helping behavior in the ZPG increased in participants who had received short-term compassion training, but not in participants who had received short-term memory training. Interindividual differences in practice duration were specifically related to changes in the amount of helping under no-reciprocity conditions. Our results provide first evidence for the positive impact of short-term compassion training on prosocial behavior towards strangers in a training-unrelated task.
<p>Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.</p>