Differences in empathic response exist based on in-group and out-group distinctions. With political rhetoric and world events, religious affiliation has become a particularly salient cue for in-group and out-group membership. An individual’s empathic responses can be measured by recording neural activation when presented with emotional faces. The current study used neutral, negative, and positive interventions in order to prime participants to feel varying levels of empathy toward Muslim faces. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured in response to neutral and pained expressions exhibited by Christian and Muslims faces. Individual differences in empathy and contact with Christians and Muslims were evaluated as covariates. Participants showed greater accuracy and faster reaction times in response to Muslim faces, which were interpreted as being an unintended effect of the stimuli. Both early and late empathic ERP components were influenced by the religious affiliation of the stimuli. The early component (N200) showed that activation differed for Muslim and Christian faces, but post-tests did not reveal the direction of the relationship. The late positive component (LPP) revealed that following the positive intervention, brain activation in response to Muslim faces was significantly greater than response to Christian faces, which indicated increased empathy levels for Muslim individuals. Covariate analysis did not produce conclusive results and should be investigated further in future studies with a different sample. These results indicated that empathic neural responses are influenced by perceived religious affiliation and that knowledge received about a religion can influence these feelings of empathy.


Herzmann, Grit




Cognition and Perception | Multicultural Psychology | Other Religion | Quantitative Psychology | Social Psychology


EEG, Electroencephalogram, Empathy, Own-religion Bias

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2017 Makenzie Adkins