Beta oscillations reveal ethnicity ingroup bias in sensorimotor resonance to pain of others

Igor Riečanský, Nina Paul, Sarah Kölble, Stefan Stieger, Claus Lamm

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

57 Citations (Scopus)


People evaluate members of their own social group more favorably and empathize more strongly with their ingroup members. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we explored whether resonant responses of sensorimotor cortex to the pain of others are modulated by the ethnicity of these others. White participants watched video clips of ethnic ingroup and outgroup hands, being either penetrated by a needle syringe or touched by a cotton swab, while EEG was recorded. Time-frequency analysis was applied to Laplacian-transformed signals from the sensors overlying sensorimotor cortex in order to assess event-related desynchronization and synchronization (ERD/ERS) of sensorimotor mu (7-12 Hz) and beta (13-30 Hz) rhythms. When watching needle injections, beta ERD was significantly stronger for ingroup compared with outgroup hands. This ethnicity bias was restricted to painful actions, as beta ERD for ingroup and outgroup hands neither differed when observing no-pain videos, nor during presentation of the hands without any treatment. Such vicarious sensorimotor activation could play a role in social interaction by enhancing the understanding of the feelings and reactions of others and hence facilitating behavioral coordination among group members.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-901
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Association
  • Attitude
  • Beta Rhythm/physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electroencephalography Phase Synchronization
  • Empathy
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain/psychology
  • Pain Perception/physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sensorimotor Cortex/physiology
  • Young Adult


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