The researchers wanted to measure brain activation in participants who had positive experiences with a member of their own group (in-group member) or another group (out-group member). A study was conducted to examine whether empathy with strangers can be learned and how positive experiences with others influence empathic brain responses.

During the test, the participants expected to receive painful shocks to the backs of their hands. However, they also discovered that a member of their own or another group could pay money to spare them pain.

The brain activation while observing pain in a person from one's own or another group was recorded before and after these experiences. At the beginning of the study, the stranger's pain triggered weaker brain activation in the participant than if a member of his or her own group was affected.

Only a handful of positive experiences with someone from the stranger's group led to a significant increase in empathic brain responses if pain was inflicted on a different person from the out-group.

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