What is it about?

It is well known that episodic memory allows us to recall and relive moments of our past; exciting newer work suggests that the same memory processes allow us to imagine and inhabit novel events as well. This process, termed episodic simulation, is known to influence our behaviour; for instance, simulating a helping interaction can deepen empathic responding and motivate an increased desire to help another person in distress. In this work, we introduce a new, more general episodic simulation task, in which people are asked to imagine a distressing event from another’s life and then report their emotional empathy and willingness to help. Our findings illustrate a robust link between simulating another’s difficult situation and personal distress, which in turn leads to higher willingness to provide help to a stranger in need.

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Why is it important?

We introduces a novel episodic simulation task, which will allow for more naturalistic study of episodic simulation as a mechanism underlying empathy and helping in the future. Our findings also highlight how a personal response of distress and emotionality, which is often characterized as an immature response when compared to compassion and concern, can actually motivate helping behaviour. Thus, we nuance the field's understanding about how the emotions we feel for and with others can influence our decision to help.


This work constitutes several years of dedicated study and integrates perspectives from both cognitive and social psychology. I am extremely grateful to my co-authors for mentoring me throughout the nonlinear course of this research. My hope is that, by bringing robust, well-tested cognitive psychological paradigms into the somewhat "noisier" arena of social psychology, we can develop a more grounded understanding of the role of episodic simulation in prosocial responding.

Amy Gregory
McGill University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: From memory to motivation: Probing the relationship between episodic simulation, empathy, and helping intentions., Emotion, September 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/emo0001294.
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