Helena Hartmann

Helena Hartmann

Psychologist, social neuroscientist and open-science enthusiast

SCAN-Unit, University of Vienna

Social Brain Lab, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience


I am a Psychologist currently obtaining my PhD 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, reproducible and transparent research
  • 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



COS Ambassador

Center of Open Science


SPM, FreeSurfer, Nipype & Neuronavigation

Data collection

Behavior, pain stimulation, effort, EMG, ECG & SCR

Data analysis

RStudio, JASP, Matlab, Python/Jupyter


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


I work as a psychologist and researcher for MyMind, a startup company in Vienna. They are developing Brain Hero, a Neurofeedback game to improve concentration levels and relaxation capabilities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


I am also a member of the Framework for Open and Reproducible Research Training (FORRT) where I am involved in multiple projects, such as the manuscript, the glossary, and the reversals project. We are always looking for new contributors and collaborators!

© Framework for Open and Reproducible Research Training (FORRT)


Journal articles

Conference contributions

Collaborative hackathons for FORRT’s “Replications and Reversals in Social Sciences” project

  • Association for Interdisciplinary Metaresearch and Open Science (aimos) conference (2021)
  • Psychological Science Accelerator (PSACON) conference (2021)

Another’s pain in my social brain: How does placebo analgesia affect decisions to exert effort to reduce another’s pain?

  • 46th joint annual meeting Psychology and the Brain (PuG) of the Division of Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology of the DGPs and DGPA (2021)
  • Society for Social Neuroscience conference (2021)

Engaging with Open Science as Feminist Early Career Researchers: 6 Top Tips

  • Open Science Conference (2021)

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

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

Is your pain my pain? Effects of localized placebo analgesia on empathy for everyday painful situations

  • 8th MindBrainBody Symposium of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (2021)
  • Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Global Connectome (2021)
  • 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, Vienna, Austria (2018)
  • Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) Annual Meeting, Vienna, Austria (2017)
  • Salzburg Mind Brain Annual Meeting (SAMBA), Salzburg, Austria (2017)


Invited talks

I gave a short presentation about a study where I investigated the effects of placebo analgesia on prosocial behavior at the 2021 Society for Social Neuroscience conference.

I talked about first experiences and lessons learned when preregistering an fMRI study at the Methods Meeting of the Institute of Systems Neuroscience in Hamburg. Find the slides here.

© Helena Hartmann

Below is a short talk about the effects of placebo analgesia on interoceptive abilities that I gave as part of the symposium “From heart to brain and back: novel findings and methodological challenges in interoception research” organized by Federica Riva and myself at the 63rd Conference of Experimental Psychologists (TeaP).

I was part of the feminist dream team that gave the collaborative talk “Navigating open science as early career feminist researchers” at the RIOT Science Club’s “Open Research: A Vision for the Future” conference in March 2021.

Here I explained my research on empathy for pain and prosocial behavior in German at a science communication format called Kaffeeklatsch mit Wissenschaft hosted by the amazing Franziska Sattler in February 2021. Find the slides to this talk here.

This is a talk I gave at the online lecture series OnNeuro about parts of my PhD on the role of the somatosensory component of pain processing in empathy in November 2020:


Guest Lecture “Science for Everyone! Science Communication for Beginners” - Slides (University of Vienna, 2020).

Guest Lectures “Doing Good/Open Science” (University of Vienna, 2019 & 2020):

Open Science


Check out my awesome-PhD GitHub repository that includes a curated list of carefully selected tools and resources I wish I knew when starting my PhD. Please feel free to contribute more resources! Also have a look at the Twitter thread where I started this list.

Below you can find my open fMRI datasets:



Podcast appearances

  • I was part of a Children’s University workshop at the University of Vienna, where we taught children about the brain, perspective taking and empathy.

  • I talked to Lee Delaney from Curiosity Cake about my PhD, specifically what kinds of methods I employ to measure empathy for pain in brain and behavior.

  • 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.

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


  • 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.

  • 1 Million Women in STEM (1MWIS), a global network providing the stories of women studying & working in STEM, asked me 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.

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


I wrote a German article about empathy and how we share the emotions of others, together with Markus Rütgen and Claus Lamm. Read the full article here. I also contributed two entries to the In-Mind glossary: Theorie der Geteilten Repräsentationen and Endogenes Opioidsystem.

Pint of Science

Pint of Science (PoS) 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. In 2021, I am also active for PoS Amsterdam, organizing online events. More info on the Website.

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


Feminist Alliance Book Club (FemABC), founded in December 2020, is a monthly book club to read and discuss books centred around feminism and underrepresented genders. Everybody is welcome to join! For more infomation, have a look at our Twitter or Goodreads pages. More info on the general idea and joining us can also be found here. If you have questions or want to become a member, write us an email at abc.feminist@gmail.com.

© Srestha Chakraborty


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.


Online studies

  • German study about emotions and depression - click here to participate!

Lab studies in Vienna

Lab studies in Amsterdam

  • Here you can sign up to stay informed about current or future studies of the Social Brain Lab in Amsterdam!
  • “Another’s Pain vs. my Gain” study (~3 hours, 8 Euros per hour) - For more information, please write an e-mail to experiments.sbl@nin.knaw.nl with the subject “PainGain”!