Helena Hartmann

Psychologist, social neuroscientist and open-science enthusiast

SCAN-Unit, University of Vienna


Doing a PhD in psychology & social neuroscience at the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit in Vienna, Austria, investigating why and how we understand and share the suffering of other individuals around us.


  • Open Science
  • Social and physical pain processing
  • Empathy and shared representations
  • Prosocial decision-making
  • Placebo and nocebo effects
  • Interoception
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder


  • PhD in Social Neuroscience, ongoing

    University of Vienna, Austria

  • MSc in Psychology, 2017

    University of Vienna, Austria

  • BSc in Psychology, 2014

    University of Vienna, Austria



How do we empathize with another person in pain? What role does our own pain perception play?

My research focuses on the behavioral and neural mechanisms underlying shared representations between first-hand and empathy for pain, specializing on a manipulation of first-hand pain through placebo analgesia. Generally, I aim for a deeper understanding of these processes by combining fMRI, physiology (ECG, SCR) and behavioral experiments.

© Helena Hartmann

Below is a short animation of my PhD research made by Scientistt.

Another’s pain in my somatosensory brain

In this project I am interested in what is actually shared when we see others in pain and what role sensory-discriminative pain processing plays in this regard.

Another’s pain in my social brain

This project investigates the transfer of placebo analgesia to effort-based prosocial decision-making in the domain of pain avoidance.

Another’s pain vs. my gain

In this project I am working together with the Social Brain Lab from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam to further investigate how empathy and prosocial decision-making are related and represented in the brain.

Other projects

I further investigate the effect of placebo analgesia on interoceptive abilities, psychological differences between placebo responders and non-responders as well as self-other distinction and emotional egocentricity in autism.

© Helena Hartmann

Conference posters

Effects of placebo analgesia on somatosensory responses during first hand and empathy for pain

Here is a short 5-minute video presentation of this poster:

  • 9th IMPRS Neurocom Summer School, Leipzig, Germany (2019)
  • 25th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), Rome, Italy (2019)
  • International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) Virtual Series on Pain & Expo (2020) and World Congress on Pain (2021)

Effects of local placebo analgesia on picture based pain empathy

  • 25th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), Rome, Italy (2019)

Social pain and emotional egocentricity in high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Behavioral and neurophysiological evidence

  • Self-Knowing-Others Workshop, Brussels, Belgium (2018)
  • International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) Annual Meeting, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2018)
  • Social Brain Symposium of the Doctoral Program ‘Cognition and Communication’, Vienna, Austria (2018)
  • Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) Annual Meeting, Vienna, Austria (2017)
  • Salzburg Mind Brain Annual Meeting (SAMBA), Salzburg, Austria (2017)

Scientific Outreach


I work as a psychologist and researcher for MyMind. They are developing Brain Hero, a Neurofeedback game to improve concentration levels and relaxation capabilities in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Check out their website.

Interview with DiscoverPhDs

DiscoverPhDs asked me about my PhD research, what a typical work day looks like for me and what enjoyments and challenges my PhD entails. Have a look at the full interview.

Podcast appearances

  • I talked to Lee from Curiosity Cake about my PhD, specifically how I measure empathy using pain. Listen to the episode.

  • I was so lucky to be part of the episode “Ever Felt Someone’s Pain… In Your Butt?” by Every Little Thing. Learn all about vicarious pain and how we can feel someone else’s pain in our own body. A great episode together with amazing researchers. Listen to it here.

  • I chatted with Aaron Halliday about my research on empathy, prosocial behavior and interoception, but also about making science relevant and accessible to everyone. Listen to the episode below:


I am an ambassador for this exciting new research platform! Here are some of the cool things you can benefit from, if you sign up: Showcase your research skills and experience, find new research and job opportunities, get information about funding and conferences in your field, and connect with other researchers all around the world. And the best thing: Everything is completely free! Check out Scientistt on Twitter or have a look at their website. You can also sign up directly here.

1 Million Women in STEM

1 Million Women in STEM (1MWIS), a global network providing the stories of women studying & working in STEM, asked me some questions, such as what I do, why I chose this field of research, what I would tell my younger self and why I love working in STEM. Have a look at my answers.

Vienna Children’s University

In 2020, I was part of a workshop for children aged 7-9 years. We brought lots of fun with making brain helmets, the rubberhand illusion, and match-the-brain-to-the-animal quiz, and taught them about the brain, perspective taking and empathy! Check out the website.

© Helena Hartmann

Pint of Science

Pint of Science brings scientists to share their latest research with you! I was part of 2020’s “Beautiful Mind” event manager team to organize three exciting evenings all about neuroscience that were unfortunately cancelled due to COVID. Furthermore, I curate the Pint of Science Austria Twitter account. More info on the Website, Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter.

© Pint of Science

Long Night of Research

Together with my PhD colleagues, I organized a booth all about research in psychology and social neuroscience in 2018. Have you ever experienced the rubberhand illusion? How do we investigate something called affective touch? Can we put awake dogs into an MR-scanner? And can you match all brains to their corresponding species? More info on their website.

© LNF2018_4781 Universitaet_Wien/derknopfdruecker.com

Photo Competition “My Research in one Picture”

In 2018, my photo about my PhD research titled “Another’s Pain in my Placebo Brain” got into the Top 10 of winning photos. See the other photos or general information on the competition.

© Helena Hartmann


Check out the German interview I did for my Twitter takeover at Real Scientists DE in May 2020.

On my own account, I mainly post about my research and PhD life, but also work-life-balance and open science! Check out my feed below and follow me for updates:


Lab studies in Vienna

Online studies

For German-speaking participants over 18 years: