Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 5, pp 1347–1359 | Cite as

Gender differences in empathic responses to others’ economic payoffs: an event-related potentials study

  • Jing Jie
  • Pinchao Luo
  • Mengdi Zhuang
  • Min Fan
  • Yijing Wang
  • Yong Yang
  • Xifu ZhengEmail author
Research Article


Although gender differences in empathy have been well established through measuring subjective outcomes, some studies of the neural mechanisms of pain empathy have not found gender differences. This inconsistent evidence may be caused by different research methods or different paradigms. The present study adopted a different approach from the pain empathy paradigm to examine gender differences in empathic responses to others’ economic payoffs using event-related potentials. The results showed that the N2 amplitudes in female participants were more negative than those in male participants, indicating a greater female than male susceptibility to facial expressions at the early stage of empathy. The LPP amplitudes for male participants were found to be more positive in the observation condition (involving no self-interest) than in the participation condition (involving self-interest), but there was no significant difference in the LPP amplitudes for the female participants between the two conditions. The results suggest that females’ empathic responses are more likely to be elicited automatically by the perception of others’ emotional states. In contrast, males’ empathic responses are more likely to be mediated by self-interest, which subsequently reduces their empathic responses.


Affective empathy Cognitive empathy N2 Late positive potential (LPP) Event-related potential 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 31771218), the Major Program of the National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 14ZDB259), and the Educational Science Project during the Twelfth Five-year Plan Period of Hainan, China (Grant no. QJY1251505).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical approval

All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Ethics Committee of South China Normal University and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jing Jie
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pinchao Luo
    • 1
  • Mengdi Zhuang
    • 1
  • Min Fan
    • 1
  • Yijing Wang
    • 1
  • Yong Yang
    • 1
  • Xifu Zheng
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Psychology, Center for Studies of Psychological Application, and Guangdong Key Laboratory of Mental Health and Cognitive ScienceSouth China Normal UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Center for Mental Health EducationHainan UniversityHaikouChina

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