Saturday, May 18, 2013

Good Lord, John Friend Needs a New Agent - JF Teams Up With Marc Gafni

These two men are the perfect diabolical duo - two serial sexual predators who prey on students. Friend and Gafni teamed up to talk about Gafni's Unique Self. And fortunately for us, The Babarazzi makes fun of them.

Good Lord, John Friend Needs a New Agent /// JF Teams Up With Marc Gafni

By The Babarazzi / April 22, 2013

Let’s set aside all the “is it wrong to sleep with your teacher?” ho-hum, as well as all that “Boo hoo my business coach/yoga teacher Daddy-fill-in lied to me” crapola and talk about something that’s actually astounding.

The other day a Babarazzi (Ms Recluse) happened upon a talk titled: “Unique Self Dialogue: With John Friend and Marc Gafni.” This same Babarazzi passed along the goods while nearly shitting herself with laughter.

For those who don’t know, Marc Gafni is a spiritual teacher guy who over the years has been maligned by a handful of significant people due to accusations regarding his sleeping around with the lady-folk (and those a bit too young to be dubbed “lady-folk”). Ahem. . . .

“I was a stupid kid and we were in love,” [Gafni] said. “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”

At the time she was fourteen thirteen he was nineteen. Ehh…. almost legit, young buck.

Gafni’s basically one of the major poster boys for “creepy teacher who gazes too long into your eyes (read: ‘soul’),” and is so dastardly he actually had the Israeli po-po on his ass after being accused of sexual misconduct by three women. In truth, there’s so much I could say on the controversies (plural) surrounding this guy regarding his relationship to female comrades, Ken “The Great Reductionist” Wilber, Integral Life, and the rest it would require a book-length work. So I’ll just leave it at that.

But, what’s the deal with John Friend hooking up with him?!?!?

See, Gafni has been through this whole “Whoops, I had sex with the wrong cholita” situation before and knows how to handle allegations of sexual badness. He knows that the first thing you do when ladies are accusing you of sexual abuse is get some other ladies to speak up for you! Better yet, if you still have friends of the fairer sex, perhaps you can quickly throw a workshop together and title it “Integral Journey of Love” or “Sex, Spirit, and Shadow,” like right around the same time a scandal breaks!
Scandal: May 2006
“Integral Journey of Love” workshop: November 2008 [After taking a two-year speaking break]
Scandal: September 2011
“Sex, Spirit, Shadow” workshop: September 2011 [No speaking break this time]
Let’s face it. John Friend needs a new agent and someone a bit more versed in the PR department. I mean, the one thing you don’t want to do after you’ve been accused of sexual misconduct and had your entire spiritual empire dismantled by a bunch of wanna-be-famous tag-a-longs is shack up with a guy who’s had to go on record as saying:
“I don’t work with kids, I don’t counsel men or women, and I don’t meet alone with women,” [Gafni] said, anxious to be rid of the old allegations. “How do I make it be over?”
Yes, John Friend did align himself with lady Desi Springer’s “The Roots” yoga system when he came out of the quiet. And, yes, that was a dope move straight from the Gafni handbook. But to then jump into the Gafni camp? Won’t that undo all his not-so-hard work?

Anyway, perhaps you’re wondering how the actual dialogue is. Well, John doesn’t say much. Gafni does most of the talking, which is good, ’cause I can actually deal with a lot of what he says. The man’s been tagging much boom-boom for a reason, seen?

But, seriously, John Friend. Unlike the rest of your sheepy sheep we always knew your were a bit of a dork, what with your mats and hyper “biz” mentality. But, you gotta get it together, man! You’re like a Boston Marathon joke said too soon. Take a break. Grow a beard. The ladies will return.

It always does.

Keith Richards Waxes Philosophical, Plays Live with His Idol, the Great Muddy Waters

Very cool. Modern rock-n-roll owes everything to the great blues guitarists who came before them, and it's nice to see that recognition. Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton have often mentioned Robert Johnson as the greatest guitarist of all time, and Muddy Waters is not far behind on that list (I'm partial to Lightnin' Hopkins, personally, although when I listen to Robert Johnson on headphones, it seems there are sometimes two guitars being played, but that was never the case).

Keith Richards Waxes Philosophical, Plays Live with His Idol, the Great Muddy Waters

May 16th, 2013

Cadillac Records—a 2008 biopic about the rise and fall of Chicago’s Chess Records—won acclaim for bravura performances, garnered Beyonce a White House performance and threats of violence from Etta James, and took it on the chin for its deeply muddled history. But nobody goes to the movies for a history lesson, right? What stuck with me was its dramatization of that moment (okay, decade) when R&B and “race records” got rebranded by Alan Freed as “Rock n’ Roll” and crossed over the color line. Hundreds of bands hijacked Chuck Berry’s licks (as he saw it), and then Jagger crashed the party with his Muddy Waters impression while his band took their name from one of his blues songs.

The Stones may not have been the first British band to make American electric blues their own, but they were arguably the most popular. In an excerpt (below) from a longer interview from 1973, Keith Richards namechecks both Waters and Berry, as well as usual suspects Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, and the much earlier Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The host pushes Keith on his roots influences and the part of black music in the Stones’ sound, asking if their lack of sentimentalism came from the blues. Keith replies,“I don’t get sentimental about things because… it doesn’t lead to clarity of thought.” And when I think clarity, I think Keith Richards. But seriously, it’s a gem of an interview.

Asked about how black musicians reacted to his blues appropriation, Richards gets philosophical: “Probably as many different reactions from them as anybody else.” We know how Chuck Berry felt—robbed—but Keith tells us Waters took it in stride, “grateful” for the introduction to the white college circuit which put more bread in his pocket. Maybe so, but Waters’ crossover before white audiences predated the Stones. Before the British invaded—two years before the Stones formed—Muddy hit England’s shores in 1958 (one year after Sister Rosetta Tharpe brought her electric blues across the pond). While the usual belief that Waters’ blues shocked the Brits may be a misconception, he won a new audience on the folk circuit, returning to England in ‘64. After laying low for a while, Waters saw a career revival late in life, performing into his final years with The Stones, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winters, and his own band. In the video above, see a full performance of Waters with the Stones from 1981, two years before Waters’ death from heart failure. He’s 66 at this gig, three years younger than Richards is now.

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~ Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

Friday, May 17, 2013

Posthumanism - To Merge Man and Machine

From Bookforum's Omnivore blog, here is a collection of links to articles on the intersection and interconnection of human and machine. Let me never live long enough to desire or have access to this technology.

To merge man and machine

MAY 6 2013

  • Brett Lunceford (South Alabama): Posthuman Visions: Creating the Technologized Body. 
  • Roland Benedikter on how an emerging tech-driven industry is trying to merge man and machine — yet we have barely begun to understand what constitutes our humanity. 
  • L. Kirk Hagen reviews Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology
  • Posthuman politics under biocapitalism: Samuel Grove interviews Eva Giraud on the “posthumanist” thought of Donna Haraway. 
  • Does enhanced human equal transhuman? Armand Vespertine wonders. 
  • From Singularity 1 on 1, an interview with Robin Hanson: Details matter and for that you need social science. 
  • David Rieff on the Singularity of Fools: A special report from the utopian future. 
  • You can download several chapters from Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment.

Explainer: What Is Intuition?

From a site called Science Alert, this is a cool overview article on what we know about intuition and how to use it (as well as when).

Explainer: What Is Intuition?

FRIDAY, 03 MAY 2013

Whether or not intuition is inherently “good” depends on the situation. 
Image: tlfurrer/Shutterstock

The word intuition is derived from the Latin intueor– to see; intuition is thus often invoked to explain how the mind can “see” answers to problems or decisions in the absence of explicit reasoning – a “gut reaction”.

Several recent popular psychology books – such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Jonah Lehrer’s The Decisive Moment – have emphasised this “power of intuition” and our ability to “think without thinking”, sometimes suggesting we should rely more heavily on intuition than deliberative (slow) or “rational” thought processes.

Such books also argue that most of the time we act intuitively – that is, without knowing why we do things we do.

But what is the evidence for these claims? And what is intuition anyway? 

Defining intuition

Albert Einstein once noted “intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience”. In a similar vein, the American psychologist Herbert A. Simon (a fellow Nobel Laureate) stated that intuition was “nothing more and nothing less than recognition”.

These definitions are very useful because they remind us that intuition need not refer to some magical process by which answers pop into our minds from thin air or from deep within the unconscious.

On the contrary: intuitive decisions are often a product of previous intense and/or extensive explicit thinking.

Such decisions may appear subjectively fast and effortless because they are made on the basis of recognition.

As a simple example, consider the decision to take an umbrella when you leave for work in the morning. A quick glance at the sky can provide a cue (such as portentous clouds); the cue gives us access to information stored in memory (rain is likely); and this information provides an answer (take an umbrella).

When such cues are not so readily apparent, or information in memory is either absent or more difficult to access, our decisions shift to become more deliberative.

Those two extremes are associated with different experiences. Deliberative thought yields awareness of intermediate steps in a chain of thought, and of effortful combination of information.

Intuitive thought lacks awareness of intermediate cognitive steps (because there aren’t any) and does not feel effortful (because the cues trigger the response). But intuition is characterised by feelings of familiarity and fluency.

Is intuition any good?

Whether or not intuition is inherently “good” really depends on the situation.

Herbert A. Simon’s view that “intuition is recognition” was based on work describing the performance of chess experts.

Work by the Dutch psychologist Adriaan De Groot, and later by Simon and the psychologist William G Chase, demonstrated that a signature of chess expertise is the ability to identify promising moves very rapidly.

That ability is achieved via immediate “pattern matching” against memories of up to 100,000 different game positions to determine the next best move.

Novices, in contrast, don’t have access to these memories and thus have to work through the possible contingencies of each move.

This line of research led to investigations of experts in other fields and the development of what has become known as recognition-primed decision making.

Work by the research psychologist Gary A Klein and colleagues concluded that fire-fighters can make rapid “inutitive” decisions about how a fire might spread through a building because they can access a repertoire of prior similar experiences and run mental simulations of potential outcomes.

Thus in these kinds of situations, where we have lots of prior experience to draw on, rapid, intuitive decisions can be very good.

But intuition can also be misleading.

In a contrasting body of work, decision psychologist Daniel Kahneman (yet another Nobel Laureate) illustrated the flaws inherent in an over-reliance on intuition.

To illustrate such an error, he considered this simple problem: If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total and the bat costs $1 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

If you are like many people, your immediate – intuitive (?) – answer would be “10 cents”. The total readily separates into a $1 and 10 cents, and 10 cents seems like a plausible amount.

But a little more thinking reveals that this intuitive answer is wrong. If the ball cost 10 cents the bat would have to be $1.10 and the total would be $1.20! So the ball must cost 5 cents.

So why does intuition lead us astray in this example? Because here intuition is not based on skilled recognition, but rather on simple associations that come to mind readily (i.e., the association between the $1 and the 10 cents).

Kahneman and Tversky famously argued these simple associations are relied upon because we often like to use heuristics, or shortcuts, that make thinking easier.

In many cases these heuristics will work well but if their use goes “unchecked” by more deliberative thinking, errors – such as the 10 cents answer – will occur.

Using intuition adaptively

The take-home message from the psychological study of intuition is that we need to exercise caution and attempt to use intuition adaptively.

When we are in situations we have experienced lots of times (such as making judgements about the weather), intuition – or rapid recognition of relevant “cues” – can be a good guide.

But if we find ourselves in novel territory or in situations in which valid cues are hard to come by (such as stock market predictions), relying on our “gut” may not be wise.

Our inherent tendency to get away with the minimum amount of thinking could lead to slip-ups in our reasoning.

~ Ben Newell receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by The Conversation, here, and is licensed as Public Domain under Creative Commons. See Creative Commons - Attribution Licence.

The Influence of Group Membership on the Neural Correlates Involved in Empathy

This short review article from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience looks at the ways in which affect, cognition, and emotional regulation play together in the formation of empathy. More importantly, they examine how each of the three components is affected by group membership and how that can lead to in-group bias (or an US vs THEM mindset).

Full Citation:
Eres R and Molenberghs P. (2013). The influence of group membership on the neural correlates involved in empathy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7:176. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00176

The influence of group membership on the neural correlates involved in empathy

Robert Eres and Pascal Molenberghs
School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia  
Empathy involves affective, cognitive, and emotion regulative components. The affective component relies on the sharing of emotional states with others and is discussed here in relation to the human Mirror System. On the other hand, the cognitive component is related to understanding the mental states of others and draws upon literature surrounding Theory of Mind (ToM). The final component, emotion regulation, depends on executive function and is responsible for managing the degree to which explicit empathic responses are made. This mini-review provides information on how each of the three components is individually affected by group membership and how this leads to in-group bias.


In their Perception-Action Model of empathy, Preston and de Waal (2002)state that “the attended perception of the object's state automatically activates the subject's representations of the state, situation, and object, and that activation of these representations automatically primes or generates the associated autonomic and somatic responses, unless inhibited.” Their view of empathy included various phenomena such as emotional contagion, cognitive empathy, guilt, and helping which according to their model all relied on the perception-action mechanism. While typically empathy has been investigated using behavioral paradigms, more recently it is becoming tangible to investigate the neural architecture that underlies this process (Preston and de Waal, 2002; Boston, 2007; Singer and Lamm, 2009; Decety, 2011; Shamay-Tsoory, 2011; Bernhardt and Singer, 2012). Decety (2011) recently proposed a three component basis for empathic experiences, highlighting affective, cognitive, and emotion regulative components. These components are deemed necessary for experiencing empathy where the affective component is identified as a bottom-up, or automatic, process and the cognitive and emotion regulative components are identified as top-down modulators. That is, sharing the pain of others occurs automatically but behavioral responses are differentiated by cognitive factors (for example, perspective taking) and emotion regulative factors (for example, motivation). Social neuroscience has also begun investigating the modulating factors that interfere with empathic responses such as inter-individual differences (Singer et al., 2004; Hein and Singer, 2008), closeness (Beeney et al., 2011), and groups (Ito and Bartholow, 2009; Chiao and Mathur, 2010). Group membership describes a group of people sharing similar and recognizable characteristics where an individual can categorize others as belonging to that particular social group (Abrams, 2012). The focus of the present review is to identify how group membership affects each of the three components of empathy and to illustrate how this accumulates to a biased view of how we see the world. 

Affective Empathy: the Ability to Share the Affective States of Others

The main problem in understanding empathy from a neuroscience perspective is explaining how we can overcome the physical distance between our brain and that of others. How can we make sure we experience the same emotions as others and how can we understand the emotions of others by just observing their behaviors? Simulation theory suggests that we understand other people's actions and emotions by mirroring their actions and feelings onto our own mind state (Preston and de Waal, 2002; Rizzolatti and Fabbri-Destro, 2008; Keysers and Gazzola, 2009; Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia, 2010). According to the classical view, perception-action coupling of motor actions is supported by mirror neurons located in areas such as the inferior parietal lobule (IPL) and posterior inferior frontal gyrus (Iacoboni et al., 1999; Rizzolatti et al., 2001), however, fMRI studies have shown that additional regions such as superior temporal sulcus (STS), dorsal and ventral premotor cortex and superior parietal lobule are also involved in perception-action coupling of motor actions (Molenberghs et al., 2009, 2010; Caspers et al., 2010).

The human mirror system does not passively respond to the observation of actions but is influenced by the mindset of the observer (Molenberghs et al., 2012c). Crucially for this review, previous studies have shown that group membership can modulate perception-action coupling. For example, a recent fMRI study (Molenberghs et al., 2012b) investigated the effect group membership has on our ability to accurately represent action perception. Participants were randomly divided into red or blue teams and they were told they had to compete against a member of the other team by pressing a button response as quickly as possible. In a subsequent experiment, participants were shown video clips of either in-group or out-group members making button-press responses as quickly as possible in a similar competitive situation, where their job was to identify which team member pressed the button fastest. On average both groups in the video clips pressed the buttons equally fast but behavioral analysis showed that participants responded that their team members pressed the button faster. Additional fMRI analyses showed differential neural activation when presented with actions of in-group members compared with out-group members. That is, for those participants who showed an in-group bias behaviorally (those participants that said their team members were faster), greater activity in the IPL was shown when observing in-group members perform the action compared with members from the out-group (Molenberghs et al., 2012b). The IPL plays an important role in perception action coupling and its modulation by group membership suggests we simulate the actions of in-group members more easily. This is in line with a recent EEG study by Gutsell and Inzlicht (2010), who found larger EEG mu suppression (which has previously been associated with mirror neuron activity) when observing actions of in-group members compared to actions of out-group members. Interestingly, this effect increased with the amount of prejudice toward the out-group (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2010). This reduced perception-action coupling for out-group members also extends to feelings of empathy. For example in a TMS study, Avenanti and colleagues (2010) found a reduction in motor-evoked potential (MEP) amplitude in the hand of participants (induced by TMS to the contralateral motor cortex) when watching an in-group member being painfully stimulated (compared to touch) but no such effect was found when watching out-group members in pain. This suggests that participants simulated the pain of the in-group member but not the pain of the out-group member.

Though predominantly focused on action-perception, vicarious experiences through mirroring have also been shown to extend to emotion and sensory domains as well (Carr et al., 2003; Keysers et al., 2004, 2010; Keysers and Fadiga, 2008; Keysers and Gazzola, 2009). Observing another person's emotional or sensory state elicits activity in a homologous area in the observer, supporting the notion that we vicariously experience the emotional and sensory states of others and represent these states onto our own emotional and sensory repertoires (Keysers and Gazzola, 2009). Indeed a recent meta-analysis including 125 fMRI studies on the mirror system found that perception-action coupling of emotional expressions through vicarious experience is not limited to the aforementioned mirror areas but also involves brain areas involved in, for example, experiencing pain such as the insula and cingulate cortex (Molenberghs et al., 2009). The role of the mirror system in action understanding and affective empathy is controversial (Saxe, 2005, 2006; Hickok, 2009; Decety, 2010) but our view here is that vicarious responses are at least partially involved in affective empathy through mirroring processes, though we acknowledge that they are only part of the story. For example Decety (2011) views affective empathy more broadly as just mirroring and his model of affective empathy also includes affective arousal which he identifies as “the automatic discrimination of a stimulus as appetitive or aversive, hostile or hospitable, pleasant or unpleasant, threatening or nurturing.”

Neuropsychological evidence suggests that greater vicarious empathic responses are elicited from own-ethnicity members compared with other-ethnicity members (Avenanti et al., 2006, 2010; Ito and Bartholow, 2009;Xu et al., 2009; Chiao and Mathur, 2010; Azevedo et al., 2012; Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2012; Sessa et al., 2013). For example, a recent fMRI study showed that when observing a member of the same ethnicity experiencing painful stimulation, greater activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula (AI) were found compared with when a member from a different ethnicity was experiencing pain (Xu et al., 2009). Race, however, is not the only factor to influence empathic responses to in-groups and out-groups. Group membership has also been found to moderate activation of the AI in response to observing painful situations. Hein and Colleagues (2010) showed in their fMRI study that greater activation in the left AI was found when in-group members (those from the same sporting team) received pain compared with out-group members (those from another sporting team). This activity was also found to correlate positively with the willingness to share the pain with an in-group member compared with an out-group member. When and out-group member received pain, rather than an increase in AI activity, more activity occurred in the right ventral striatum [an area typically associated with pleasure and schadenfreude (Singer et al., 2006; Takahashi et al., 2009)], and this activity was negatively correlated with the willingness to share the pain of the out-group member (Hein et al., 2010). In a similar fMRI study, Cikara and colleagues (2011) monitored neural activity when participants watched video clips of two sporting teams (participant favorite vs. other) compete against each other. They found that when the participants' team won, increased activity in the ventral striatum was observed. More importantly, though, when the participants' team lost, greater activity in the AI and dACC were shown suggesting that participants were empathizing with the pain that the players of their favored team felt. However, sharing the emotions with others alone cannot explain the rich experience of empathy. Empathy also involves a cognitive and emotional regulative component. 

Cognitive Empathy or the Ability to Reason About Others' Mental States

Vicariously sharing other people's emotions helps us partially understand how other people are feeling, but to completely understand the beliefs, desires and intentions of others, one must also reason about the mental state of others. This cognitive aspect of empathy is typically associated with regions associated with mental state reasoning or so called Theory of Mind (ToM) and often involves regions such as the medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC), Temporoparietal Junction (TPJ), and adjacent posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus (pSTS) (Amodio and Frith, 2006; Saxe, 2006; Decety and Lamm, 2007; Frith, 2007; Keysers and Gazzola, 2007; Uddin et al., 2007;Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2009; Van Overwalle and Baetens, 2009; Cheon et al., 2010; Shamay-Tsoory, 2011).

Cognitive empathy can also be modulated by group membership. Adams et al. (2009) used an fMRI modified version of the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test” (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) in which participants are presented with pictures of just the eyes of people and participants then have to judge what the person in the picture is thinking or feeling. Adams et al. (2009)used pictures of Asian and Caucasian people and then let native Japanese and white Americans judge the mental state of those people. They found a behavioral intra-cultural advantage for understanding the mental state of in-group members compared to out-group members and showed that this in-group bias was associated with increased activity in the posterior STS. In line with Adams et al. (2009), research surrounding ToM has consistently shown the importance of the STS in understanding the mental states of others (Fletcher et al., 1995; Allison et al., 2000; Gallagher and Frith, 2003; Amodio and Frith, 2006). Similarly, Cheon et al. (2011) found that Korean participants showed more empathy for in-group members experiencing emotional pain than out-group members and that this was related to increased activity in the TPJ. Similar studies have also illustrated the importance of the mPFC in in-group bias. For example, Mathur and colleagues (2010) found increased activation in the mPFC when watching in-group members experience emotional pain compared to out-group members and this increase predicted greater empathy and altruistic motivation for one's in-group. Another fMRI study found mPFC activation when participants watched pictures of social groups but not for extreme low-status groups (Harris and Fiske, 2006).

The mPFC also has an important role in social categorization, with increased activation in this region previously associated with in-group concepts compared to out-group concepts in both existing (Morrison et al., 2012) and newly created groups (Molenberghs and Morrison, 2012). Volz and colleagues (2009) also found that during an fMRI modified version of the minimal group paradigm (Tajfel et al., 1971) high in-group favoritism was associated with increased activation in the mPFC. Taken together, the aforementioned findings suggest that increased activation in cognitive empathy regions are associated with increased understanding of the mental state of in-group compared to out-group members (Adams et al., 2009;Mathur et al., 2010; Cheon et al., 2011), in-group minus out-group social categorization (Volz et al., 2009; Molenberghs and Morrison, 2012;Morrison et al., 2012) and in-group favoritism (Volz et al., 2009), suggesting further the modulating role of group membership on empathic experiences. 

Emotional Self-Regulation or the Control of Explicit Emotions

To reiterate, affective empathy is partially supported by simulating the emotional states of others whereas cognitive empathy relies partially on understanding another's mental state through cognitive reasoning. Given this capacity to experience the affective and mental states of others, it seems necessary that an additional network be set to moderate the degree to which we experience these effects or explicitly express these states. Without an emotion regulative network, shared emotional states may inhibit our ability to perform tasks that require emotional distance (e.g., a surgeon operating on a child or a defense lawyer supporting a psychopath) or it may interfere with our ability to hide automatic biases (e.g., a parent being derogative to a teacher of a different racial background). Essentially, there needs to be a neural function that inhibits or facilitates empathic responses more explicitly to allow for appropriate functioning in day-to-day life (Decety, 2011). Areas involved with emotion regulation such as the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), dorsolateral (dlPFC) and ventromedial (vmPFC) prefrontal cortex have previously been shown to modulate the effects of empathy (Amodio et al., 2006, 2008; Cheng et al., 2007; Beer et al., 2008; Ito and Bartholow, 2009; Decety et al., 2010;Decety, 2011).

For example, Cheng and colleagues (2007) investigated the neural processes underlying expert and naïve populations' reactions to a person experiencing painful (penetrated with acupuncture needles) and non-painful (Q-tip) stimulation. Evidence from their fMRI investigation revealed increased activity for the pain matrix network (dACC, insula, somatosensory cortex) in naïve participants. On the other hand, the experts (physicians with acupuncture experience) provided no activity in these areas, instead neural activity was recorded in vmPFC which is involved in emotion regulation (Decety, 2011) and TPJ which has previously been implicated in self-other differentiation and ToM (Decety and Lamm, 2007). These results suggest that the acupuncturists could influence their vicarious pain experience by down-regulating these responses through emotional regulation and increased self-other differentiation. Using a similar paradigm, Decety et al. (2010) used EEG to identify the time course of empathic responses and the regulation thereof. The authors identified that for naïve participants, early (N110) and late (P3) activity showed differential responses for painful and non-painful stimuli but when the experienced physicians viewed this stimulus set, there were no differences in early or late processes which suggests that emotion regulation can impede on early processing of painful stimulus presentation (Decety et al., 2010).

Relevant to emotion regulation is the ability to inhibit explicit emotional reactions. It is important to regulate explicit emotional expressions to maintain egalitarian status within society. An example of this was shown in an fMRI study by Richeson and colleagues (2003) who argued that people (especially those with high racial bias) during interracial contact must inhibit racial attitudes and this would result in depletion of executive functions (i.e., response inhibition) which in turn would lead to impaired performance on a subsequent task that requires these functions. They tested this hypothesis by measuring White participants internal beliefs toward racial groups (Blacks and Whites) using an Implicit Association Test (IAT). Additionally, they asked participants to comment on a few questions with a Black Experimenter (mixed-race interaction) and then participants completed a Stroop task to measure executive functioning (task inhibition). Results showed that those who scored higher on the IAT for racial bias, also showed more interference effects on the subsequent Stroop task. When followed up with an fMRI task where participants were presented with Black and White faces, they found increased activation in the ACC and the dlPFC when Black faces were presented, suggesting greater response inhibition during these trials. A significant positive relationship was also found between the increase in ACC and dlPFC activation and the IAT and Stroop task, where this increase in the right dlPFC mediated the effect between IAT and Stroop interference. Collating this evidence, it suggests that people who show higher interracial bias try to inhibit automatic stereotypes, ultimately leading to a reduction in cognitive resources.

Another nice example of emotion regulation was shown in an fMRI study by Cunningham and colleagues (2004). They showed White participants pictures of Black (out-group) and White (in-group) faces either very briefly (30 ms) or for a longer duration (525 ms). The authors predicted that when these pictures would be presented very briefly, participants would not have enough time to regulate their emotions (i.e., negative responses to the Black faces). The fMRI results showed there was increased activation in the amygdala for Black faces compared to White faces when the stimuli were presented very briefly but no such effect was found when the stimuli were presented for longer. Instead they found increased activation in the dlPFC and ACC in the long stimulus presentation condition. When correlating the scores of an IAT regarding race bias with that of neural activity, a positive relationship was shown between behavioral data and fMRI activity in the amygdala for Black and White faces. Similarly, Black-White differences in amygdala activity between the short and long image presentations were predicted by frontal activation. Taking these findings together, it suggests that an automatic race bias against Black faces in White participants is moderated using reflective cognitive processes that only take effect after a period of time. Given that it is not socially acceptable to show explicit in-group bias, the authors interpreted this effect as increased emotion regulation of an automatic bias.

However, social categorization can also override automatic biases. For example, Van Bavel et al. (2008) investigated whether arbitrary and temporary novel group membership could override the effects of predominant group memberships within society (i.e., race as described in their study). Therefore, they randomly assigned participants to a mixed-race team. Pairing behavioral paradigms with functional MRI, the authors measured activity in the fusiform face area (FFA), which has previously been shown to be modulated by face perception and visual expertise (Gauthier et al., 1999, 2000; Golby et al., 2001; Van Bavel et al., 2011), when participants were presented with pictures of faces of in-group and out-group members. The results revealed greater activity in bilateral FFA for in-group faces compared to out-group faces. Interestingly this effect was specific to in-group vs. out-group and was not modulated by race (see also Van Bavel and Cunningham, 2009 and Van Bavel et al., 2011 for similar results). This provides evidence that categorizing people from a different race into an in-group can inhibit automatic racial biases. 


The current review aimed to highlight how group membership modulates the affective, cognitive, and regulative components of empathy. We have shown that in-group bias is not only a result of increased vicarious simulation of the actions (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2010; Molenberghs et al., 2012b) and feelings (Xu et al., 2009) of in-group compared to out-group members but also follows from increased activation in ToM regions (Adams et al., 2009; Mathur et al., 2010; Cheon et al., 2011) when trying to understand the mental state of in-group vs. out-group members. These group biases can be influenced by emotional regulation (Ito and Bartholow, 2009) depending on expertise (Cheng et al., 2007; Decety et al., 2010) and context (Richeson and Shelton, 2003; Cunningham et al., 2004) so that we respond in a socially acceptable way to our environment. Lastly, it seems that arbitrary re-categorization can override automatic biases such as race (Van Bavel et al., 2008). Seeing as group membership modulates responses at each component of empathy, future investigations should identify methods of reversing these biases at each of the three distinguishable levels.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


This work was supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DE130100120) and ARC Discovery Project Grant (DP130100559) awarded to Pascal Molenberghs.


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