Empathy and error processing


Address reprint requests to: Michael J. Larson, PhD, Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, 244 TLRB, Provo, UT 84602. Email: michael_larson@byu.edu


Recent research suggests a relationship between empathy and error processing. Error processing is an evaluative control function that can be measured using post-error response time slowing and the error-related negativity (ERN) and post-error positivity (Pe) components of the event-related potential (ERP). Thirty healthy participants completed two measures of empathy, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and the Empathy Quotient (EQ), and a modified Stroop task. Post-error slowing was associated with increased empathic personal distress on the IRI. ERN amplitude was related to overall empathy score on the EQ and the fantasy subscale of the IRI. The Pe and measures of empathy were not related. Results remained consistent when negative affect was controlled via partial correlation, with an additional relationship between ERN amplitude and empathic concern on the IRI. Findings support a connection between empathy and error processing mechanisms.