Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying improvement of prosocial responses by a novel implicit compassion promotion task

Shin Ah Kim, Stephan Hamann, Sang Hee Kim

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Compassion is closely associated with prosocial behavior. Although there is growing interest in developing strategies that cultivate compassion, most available strategies rely on effortful reflective processes. Furthermore, few studies have investigated neurocognitive mechanisms underlying compassion-dependent improvement of prosocial responses. We devised a novel implicit compassion promotion task that operates based on association learning and examined its prosocial effects in two independent experiments. In Experiment 1, healthy adults were assigned to either the compassion or control group. For the intervention task, the compassion group completed word fragments that were consistently related to compassionate responses toward others; in contrast, the control group completed word fragments related to emotionally neutral responses toward others. Following the intervention task, we measured attentional biases to fearful, sad, and happy faces. Prosocial responses were assessed using two measures of helping: the pen-drop test and the helping intentions rating test. In Experiment 2, independent groups of healthy adults completed the same intervention tasks used in Experiment 1. Inside a functional MRI scanner, participants rated empathic care and distress based on either distressful or neutral video clips. Outside the scanner, we assessed the degree of helping intentions toward the victims depicted in the distressful clips. The results of Experiment 1 showed that the compassion promotion task reduced attentional vigilance to fearful faces, which in turn mediated a compassion promotion task-dependent increase in helping intentions. In Experiment 2, relative to the control group, the compassion group showed reduced empathic distress and increased activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex in response to others’ suffering. Furthermore, increased functional connectivity of the medial orbitofrontal and inferior parietal cortex, predicted by reduced empathic distress, explained the increase in helping intentions. These results suggest the potential of implicit compassion promotion intervention to modulate compassion-related and prosocial responses as well as highlight the brain activation and connectivity related to these responses, contributing to our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying compassion-dependent prosocial improvement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118333
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct 15

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Attetional bias
  • Compassion promotion
  • Empathic distress
  • Medial orbitofrontal cortex
  • Prosocial
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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