Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Second Department


Reader 1

Catherine L. Reed

Reader 2

Melissa Coleman

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Rights Information

© 2012 Greg J. Zahner


The three components model of empathy proposed by Decety and Jackson (2004) is currently the dominant model of empathy. The three components include: 1) the affective component (Simulation Theory), 2) emotional perspective taking, and 3) emotion regulation (self/other distinction). The purpose of the current study was to examine whether empathic perspective taking is dependent on context and to provide a behavioral basis for a follow-up fMRI study. More specifically, we wanted to know how body contexts (e.g. mood) and situational contexts (e.g. perceived fairness of a partner) affect emotional perspective taking. To examine the interaction between mood and perceived fairness of a partner, a 2 (mood group: neutral vs. negative) × 2 (fairness condition: unfair partner vs. fair partner) between-groups experimental design was employed. Mood induction videos were employed for the mood manipulation and participants played either a fair or unfair preprogrammed partner in a modified ultimatum game. After both manipulations, three measures were used to assess perspective taking and several post-game behavioral measures were also employed. Results were obtained from 73 participants (age: 18-22; female = 46, ~18 in each condition). The results demonstrated that participants in the negative mood had more difficulty empathizing with unfair partners and had a greater desire for revenge against them than participants in a neutral mood in the same unfair situations. Therefore, human empathy is not constant, but varies depending on a variety of contexts. We can now use this paradigm for a future fMRI study to investigate the neural substrates underlying this context dependency with a particular emphasis on the frontopolar cortex and the nucleus accumbens.


  • Best Senior Thesis in Neuroscience

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.