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Summary

Two studies (N = 80; N = 91) investigated whether sharing an autobiographical memory increases empathy for a person experiencing chronic pain. Across studies, empathy was assessed after reading a pain-related narrative of either a 25- or 85-year-old target and again after assignment to one of two recall conditions. Conditions involved recalling a pain-related autobiographical memory (Studies 1 and 2), or as comparisons, recalling the target's pain narrative (Study 1) or recalling a character in pain from a movie (Study 2). Looking across both studies, empathy levels appear to increase after sharing an autobiographical memory but not in the comparison conditions. Increases in empathy were related to trait-level agreeableness. When target-age differences emerged (Study 2), participants felt greater empathy for the older person. Findings are discussed in terms of the function of autobiographical memory in eliciting pro-social emotions such as empathy and implications for training empathic responding. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.