Ideological values are parametrically associated with empathy neural response to vicarious suffering

Niloufar Zebarjadi, Eliyahu Adler, Annika Kluge, Mikko Sams, Jonathan Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Several studies in political psychology reported higher levels of empathy among political leftists (i.e. liberals) as compared to political rightists (i.e. conservatives). Yet, all those studies lean on self-reports, which are often limited by subjective bias and conformity to social norms. Here, we tested this putative asymmetry using neuroimaging: we recorded oscillatory neural activity using magnetoencephalography while 55 participants completed a well-validated neuroimaging paradigm for empathy to vicarious suffering. The findings revealed a typical rhythmic alpha-band 'empathy response' in the temporal-parietal junction. This neural empathy response was significantly stronger in the leftist than in the rightist group. In addition to this dichotomous division, the neural response was parametrically associated with both self-reported political inclination and right-wing ideological values. This is the first study to reveal an asymmetry in the neural empathy response as a function of political ideology. The findings reported in this study are in line with the current literature in political psychology and provide a novel neural perspective to support the ideological asymmetry in empathy. This study opens new vistas for addressing questions in political psychology by using neuroimaging.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbernsad029
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press.


  • alpha rhythm
  • empathy
  • ideological asymmetry
  • magnetoencephalography
  • neuropolitics


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