What's in a name? Monikers alter empathy in the brain

What's in a name? Monikers alter empathy in the brain Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Graduate student John Kiat and Jacob Cheadle from the Psychology Department found out, through their experiment, that names change our empathy towards others. Empathy is an essential quality when it comes to caring about others, and understanding their perspectives. "If you talk about racism, sexism or classism - all these things - one of the primary drivers is a lack of empathy," said Kiat. Researcher had only recently started to study empathy through brain functions, and Kiat and Cheadle's research is the first to use electroencephalogram, or EEG, to map out brain activities and study the link between neutral responses and names, when it comes to forming empathy.

During the experiment, subjects were shown first a resting face and then that face in pain, and they were asked to rate the pain based on what they saw. The experiment was constructed with 36 different faces. The second round of the study use the same set of faces and expressions, but names were given to each of the individual face. And the results show a significant change in their empathy level.

Kiat's explanation revolves around the correlation between the empathy formed and subject's perceptions towards those names that was formed previously- "If you know and like a Sarah and you think Sarah is tough, that may well influence the empathy you have not only for that Sarah but for other Sarahs as well," Kiat said, "Information regarding identity is important, and names clearly shift the informational bases of empathic response."

The results will be published here in July.