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Publication Detail
Dreading the pain of others? Altruistic responses to others' pain underestimate dread
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Story GW, Chowdhury R, Kurth-Nelson Z, Crockett M, Vlaev I, Darzi A, Dolan RJ
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
  • Status:
  • Country:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Altruism, discounting, dread, empathy, pain, social
  • Notes:
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
A dislike of waiting for pain, aptly termed 'dread', is so great that people will increase pain to avoid delaying it. However, despite many accounts of altruistic responses to pain in others, no previous studies have tested whether people take delay into account when attempting to ameliorate others' pain. We examined the impact of delay in 2 experiments where participants (total N = 130) specified the intensity and delay of pain either for themselves or another person. Participants were willing to increase the experimental pain of another participant to avoid delaying it, indicative of dread, though did so to a lesser extent than was the case for their own pain. We observed a similar attenuation in dread when participants chose the timing of a hypothetical painful medical treatment for a close friend or relative, but no such attenuation when participants chose for a more distant acquaintance. A model in which altruism is biased to privilege pain intensity over the dread of pain parsimoniously accounts for these findings. We refer to this underestimation of others' dread as a 'Dread Empathy Gap'.
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