Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion Lab


The Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion lab uses Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain signals related to empathy and compassion. The lab puts a particular focus on self-other discrimination and its role in promoting perspective-taking and minimizing personal distress. Among the most important discoveries from the lab is that increased self-other differences in mu suppression (a signal that partly reflects mirror neurons) relates to increased perspective-taking abilities. Additionally, the lab has shown that power increase in another EEG signal within the beta band range relates to personal distress while decreases in power relates to empathy. These findings are being applied to various topics. Recent data suggest that stronger mirror neuron reactivity to “invisible man” stimuli possibly relates to stronger religious and paranormal beliefs. We are also investigating differences in mu suppression between vegetarians and omnivores while viewing videos of traditional food animals, with the hypothesis that vegetarians will show more mu suppression (mirror neuron activity) than omnivores. The lab is also investigating how belief in free will may impact compassionate behavior with the hypothesis that disbelieving in free will would promote more compassionate behavior. Dr. Woodruff’s lab is always recruiting highly motivated and inquisitive students.