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Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2015 Oct;265(7):623-31. doi: 10.1007/s00406-014-0565-x. Epub 2014 Dec 5.

Influence of empathetic pain processing on cognition in schizophrenia.

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Human Neuroscience Institute, Department of Human Development, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA.
Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.
Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China.
Department of Clinical Psychology, Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China.
Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China.


Deficits in both empathy and cognition have been reported widely in patients with schizophrenia. However, little is known about how these deficits interact among such patients. In the present study, we used pain portraying pictures preceding a color-word Stroop task to investigate the effect of empathetic pain observation on cognition among patients with schizophrenia. Twenty patients with schizophrenia and twenty healthy controls were included. The control group showed increased Stroop facilitation and decreased interference during the empathetic pain condition compared with the non-empathetic condition. Although patients with schizophrenia exhibited deficits in cognition, they demonstrated a similar empathy effect to controls on Stroop facilitation, but a somewhat larger empathy effect on Stroop interference (a more decreased effect). In particular, the groups did not differ in either automatic or controlled processing during the non-empathetic condition, suggesting general rather than specific cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Together, we interpret our findings in terms of two opposing effects of empathy on cognition in schizophrenia, with possible neuromodulatory mechanism. Whereas prior studies showed empathy to be impaired, our outcomes indicate that at least some components of empathetic pain processing are preserved in such patients.


Empathy; Empathy–cognition interaction; Schizophrenia; Stroop task

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