Cultural influences on neural basis of intergroup empathy

Bobby K. Cheon, Dong mi Im, Tokiko Harada, Ji Sook Kim, Vani A. Mathur, Jason M. Scimeca, Todd B. Parrish, Hyun Wook Park, Joan Y. Chiao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Cultures vary in the extent to which people prefer social hierarchical or egalitarian relations between individuals and groups. Here we examined the effect of cultural variation in preference for social hierarchy on the neural basis of intergroup empathy. Using cross-cultural neuroimaging, we measured neural responses while Korean and American participants observed scenes of racial ingroup and outgroup members in emotional pain. Compared to Caucasian-American participants, Korean participants reported experiencing greater empathy and elicited stronger activity in the left temporo-parietal junction (L-TPJ), a region previously associated with mental state inference, for ingroup compared to outgroup members. Furthermore, preferential reactivity within this region to the pain of ingroup relative to outgroup members was associated with greater preference for social hierarchy and ingroup biases in empathy. Together, these results suggest that cultural variation in preference for social hierarchy leads to cultural variation in ingroup-preferences in empathy, due to increased engagement of brain regions associated with representing and inferring the mental states of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-650
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2011


  • Cultural neuroscience
  • Culture
  • FMRI
  • Intergroup empathy
  • Social dominance orientation
  • Temporoparietal junction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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