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The Influence of Reward on Cognitive Empathy

Tempelmans Plat, K. H. (2020) The Influence of Reward on Cognitive Empathy. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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We mimic people more if we like them. This observation suggests that certain component processes of empathy can be modulated by reward. Crucially, this reward-driven modulation of mimicry is decreased in people with high autistic symptoms. Autism has also been associated with impairments in other, more cognitive, components of empathy. However, it remains ill-investigated whether reward similarly modulates these cognitive component processes of empathy and, in turn, whether this modulation is altered in individuals with high autistic symptoms. The current thesis aims to address this gap in the literature. Commonly used tasks requiring judgments about others’ mental states were used to index different processes related to cognitive empathy. In separate experiments, this was done for Theory of Mind (Chapter 2), perspective taking (Chapter 3), and empathic accuracy (Chapter 4). The impact of reward on task performance was tested through manipulating the reward value associated with the ‘other’. The analyses show that reward value associated with the other positively affects Theory of Mind performance, but only when the participant is required to make an explicit judgment about the other’s belief. Additionally, there is some evidence that reward aids visual perspective taking. Lastly, reward benefits making inferences about how positive or negative the other feels. However, the results show that the reward-driven modulation of cognitive empathy-related processes is not related to autistic traits. Interestingly, the various employed task measures of cognitive empathy were not related to each other (Chapter 5). Taken together, the analyses in this thesis indicate that reward improves performance on some cognitive empathy tasks, likely mediated by the employment of underlying cognitive capacities that are unaffected in those with high autistic traits.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Murayama, K. and Chakrabarti, B.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:104247


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