Empathy is one of the core components of social interaction. Although current models of empathy emphasize the role of attention, few studies have directly examined the relationship between attentional processes and individual differences in empathy. This study hypothesized that empathic people would process emotional expressions more efficiently and automatically compared to less empathic people. Crucially, such a processing advantage should be present only for faces of others compared to one’s own face. To test this hypothesis, 100 healthy participants varying in their self-reported empathy levels underwent an attentional blink task that tested preferential attentional processing. Results showed a diminished attentional blink effect for sad faces of others in the high-empathy group. Additionally, performance differences in the task were related to both trait empathy and daily prosocial behavior. Overall, our results show that emotional stimuli preferentially capture the attention of empathic people, leading to automatic processing.
- Attentional blink
- Facial expression
- Perception-action model
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)