Guess who's coming to dinner: Brain signatures of racially biased and politically correct behaviors

M. Berlingeri, M. Gallucci, L. Danelli, M. Forgiarini, M. Sberna, E. Paulesu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to share feelings with those of someone in pain is affected by the racial difference between the target and the onlooker. A differential empathic activation for race (DEAR effect) in favor of in-group members has been documented in the brain pain matrix. However, we are also capable of unbiased responses that manifest politically correct behaviors toward people of a different race. To address the neurofunctional signatures underlying both the DEAR effect and the manifestation of politically correct behaviors, we scanned with fMRI Caucasian participants while watching African or Caucasian actors touched by either a rubber eraser or a needle. Participants were instructed to empathize with the actors during the video presentation (stimulus phase) and to explicitly judge the pain level experienced by the actors (response phase). During the stimulus phase, we found a typical DEAR effect within the pain-matrix. This effect correlated with the level of implicit racial bias as measured by the IAT. On the other hand, during the response phase a significant out-group specific DEAR effect emerged in the prefrontal cortices. This latter effect was coupled with a revealing behavioral pattern: while the magnitude of the painful experience attributed to Caucasians and Africans was the same, our participants were significantly slower when judging the pain experience of the African actors. We propose a model that logically integrates these two contrasting forces at the neurobiological and behavioral level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Sep 22 2016


  • controlled processes
  • embodied responses
  • empathy
  • fMRI
  • politically correct responses
  • racial bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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