Grant to explore memory and empathy

Dr Federica Meconi has won a prestigous Marie-Curie grant worth over 183,000 Euros for a two-year project to explore how memories shape empathy for others.

Sharing others’ emotions is something that individuals experience every day. This happens when a friend is happy or sad but also when encountering strangers who share an experience they just lived; this is what happens to clinicians or social workers, for instance.

The ability to share others’ emotions is called empathy and it constitutes a powerful social glue that constantly nourishes social interactions and reduces barriers between individuals. But how do we do it, exactly? Intuitively, sharing similar experiences would enrich our ability to share the emotion associated with those experiences, but do we always relive our own experiences when sharing others’ emotions? Is it something that happens automatically? Sometimes, remembering our own experiences can help us to represent others’ inner states in order to respond appropriately to their needs, but sharing similar experiences can even be detrimental to this aim if our own did not elicit the same kind of emotion. In this case, to which extent can we really put aside our memories to understand others’ emotive states?

In a European society characterised by migration enhancement, diversity and discrimination are in the spotlight. Addressing issues related to the reduction of barriers between individuals, ie, empathy, has the final aim of promoting solidarity and cooperation through efficacious human interactions. Autobiographical memories collected through social interactions play a critical role in progressively shaping new interactive behaviour. Since both memory and empathy contribute to improving social interactions, the 'mempathy' project aims to investigate the relationship between autobiographical memories and empathy in overcoming barriers between individuals.

Dr Federica Meconi will be conducting the project in collaboration with Dr Simon Hanslmayr and Professor Ian Apperly.