Not as good as you think? Trait positive emotion is associated with increased self-reported empathy but decreased empathic performance.
ABSTRACT: How is positive emotion associated with our ability to empathize with others? Extant research provides support for two competing predictions about this question. An empathy amplification hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with greater empathy, as it often enhances other prosocial processes. A contrasting empathy attenuation hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with lower empathy, because positive emotion promotes self-focused or antisocial behaviors. The present investigation tested these competing perspectives by examining associations between dispositional positive emotion and both subjective (i.e., self-report) and objective (i.e., task performance) measures of empathy. Findings revealed that although trait positive emotion was associated with increased subjective beliefs about empathic tendencies, it was associated with both increases and decreases in task-based empathic performance depending on the target's emotional state. More specifically, trait positive emotion was linked to lower overall empathic accuracy toward a high-intensity negative target, but also a higher sensitivity to emotion upshifts (i.e., shifts in emotion from negative to positive) toward positive targets. This suggests that trait positive affect may be associated with decreased objective empathy in the context of mood incongruent (i.e., negative) emotional stimuli, but may increase some aspects of empathic performance in the context of mood congruent (i.e., positive) stimuli. Taken together, these findings suggest that trait positive emotion engenders a compelling subjective-objective gap regarding its association with empathy, in being related to a heightened perception of empathic tendencies, despite being linked to mixed abilities in regards to empathic performance. (Word count: 242).
Project description:Little is known about how emotion recognition and empathy jointly operate in youth growing up in contexts defined by persistent adversity. We investigated whether adversity exposure in two groups of youth was associated with reduced empathy and whether deficits in emotion recognition mediated this association. Foster, rural poor, and comparison youth from Swaziland, Africa identified emotional expressions and rated their empathic concern for characters depicted in images showing positive, ambiguous, and negative scenes. Rural and foster youth perceived greater anger and happiness in the main characters in ambiguous and negative images than did comparison youth. Rural children also perceived less sadness. Youth's perceptions of sadness in the negative and ambiguous expressions mediated the relation between adversity and empathic concern, but only for the rural youth, who perceived less sadness, which then predicted less empathy. Findings provide new insight into processes that underlie empathic tendencies in adversity-exposed youth and highlight potential directions for interventions to increase empathy.
Project description:Recent evidence suggests that the association between oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR rs53576) and emotion-related behavioral/psychological tendencies differs between individuals from East Asian and Western cultures. What remains unresolved is which specific dimension of cultural orientations interacts with OXTR rs53576 to shape these tendencies and whether such gene × culture interactions occurs at both behavioral and neural level. This study investigated whether and how OXTR rs53576 interacts with interdependence-a key dimension of cultural orientations that distinguish between East Asian and Western cultures-to affect human empathy that underlies altruistic motivation and prosocial behavior. Experiment 1 measured interdependence, empathy trait and OXTR rs53576 genotypes of 1536 Chinese participants. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed a stronger association between interdependence and empathy trait in G allele carriers compared with A/A homozygotes of OXTR rs53576. Experiment 2 measured neural responses to others' suffering by scanning A/A and G/G homozygous of OXTR rs53576 using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed stronger associations between interdependence and empathic neural responses in the insula, amygdala and superior temporal gyrus in G/G compared with A/A carriers. Our results provide the first evidence for gene × culture interactions on empathy at both behavioral tendency and underlying brain activity.
Project description:The oxytocinergic system is crucial for sociality and well-being and is associated with empathy. It is suggested that the oxytocinergic system exerts context- and person-dependent effects. We examined how sexual sadistic contexts influenced the effects of the oxytocinergic system on empathic-related behaviors and brain activity in healthy adults. Combining genetic neuroimaging, pharmacological techniques and a psychological paradigm of empathy, we recorded EEG neural responses in female OXTR rs53756 G/G and A/A carriers and measured subjective empathic ratings after intranasal administration of oxytocin/placebo in healthy male adults during the perception of painful facial expressions in sadistic/general social contexts. The results revealed that sadistic contexts modulate oxytocinergic effects on empathy at both behavioral and neural levels. The oxytocinergic system preferentially modulated empathic responses to sadistic contexts. These effects are moderated by individual's trait empathy. Our combined genetic-pharmacological-imaging results provide a neurochemical mechanism for sadistic context-dependent effects of the oxytocinergic system on empathy.
Project description:Recent research with moral dilemmas supports dual-process model of moral decision making. This model posits two different paths via which people can endorse utilitarian solution that requires personally harming someone in order to achieve the greater good (e.g., killing one to save five people): (i) weakened emotional aversion to the prospect of harming someone due to reduced empathic concern for the victim; (ii) enhanced cognition which supports cost-benefit analysis and countervails the prepotent emotional aversion to harm. Direct prediction of this model would be that personality traits associated with reduced empathy would show higher propensity to endorse utilitarian solutions. As per this prediction, we found that trait alexithymia, which is well-known to have deficits in empathy, was indeed associated with increased utilitarian tendencies on emotionally aversive personal moral dilemmas and this was due to reduced empathic concern for the victim. Results underscore the importance of empathy for moral judgments in harm/care domain of morality.
Project description:Seeing someone in need may evoke a particular kind of closeness that has been conceptualized as sympathy or empathic concern (which is distinct from other empathy constructs). In other contexts, when people suddenly feel close to others, or observe others suddenly feeling closer to each other, this sudden closeness tends to evoke an emotion often labeled in vernacular English as being moved, touched, or heart-warming feelings. Recent theory and empirical work indicates that this is a distinct emotion; the construct is named kama muta. Is empathic concern for people in need simply an expression of the much broader tendency to respond with kama muta to all kinds of situations that afford closeness, such as reunions, kindness, and expressions of love? Across 16 studies sampling 2918 participants, we explored whether empathic concern is associated with kama muta. Meta-analyzing the association between ratings of state being moved and trait empathic concern revealed an effect size of, r(3631) = 0.35 [95% CI: 0.29, 0.41]. In addition, trait empathic concern was also associated with self-reports of the three sensations that have been shown to be reliably indicative of kama muta: weeping, chills, and bodily feelings of warmth. We conclude that empathic concern might actually be a part of the kama muta construct.
Project description:Background: The capacity for empathy plays an important role in interpersonal relationships and social functioning, and impairments in empathy can have negative effects on social interactions and overall social adjustment. This suggests that empathy may be a critical target for intervention in individuals who struggle with social interactions, yet it is unclear if the skills required for empathy are malleable. This study investigates the efficacy of targeted social cognitive training for improving empathic skills. Methods: Forty-five individuals (mean age = 24) were included in this study. Twenty-four individuals were allocated to the active social cognition training group and 21 individuals were allocated to a computer games control condition. Subjects completed approximately 10.5 h of training over two weeks. Pre- and post- training, they completed measures of empathy and emotion recognition, including the Interpersonal Reactivity Inventory (IRI) and an empathic accuracy task. ANOVA and regression analyses tested changes in participants' performance on the empathic accuracy task and scores on the IRI subscales were used to assess the effect of the social cognitive training. Results: Repeated measures ANOVA show that there is a significant group by timepoint interaction on the Empathic Accuracy task, with individuals who completed the social cognition training showing a significant improvement in performance following training. There were no significant changes for either group on any of the self-report IRI subscales. Individuals in the active training group show significant improvement on negative valence videos and a trend towards improvement on positive valence videos. In addition, individuals in social cognition active training group who reported higher intrinsic motivation demonstrated greater improvement on the Empathic Accuracy task. Conclusions: Individuals who completed a computerized social cognition training program demonstrated improved performance on a rater objective measure of empathic accuracy while individuals who completed a computer game control condition did not demonstrate any significant changes in their performance on the empathic accuracy task. These results suggest that targeted training in social cognition may increase empathic abilities, even in healthy individuals, and that this training may be beneficial to individuals with social cognitive deficits.
Project description:Psychopathic individuals show selfish, manipulative, and antisocial behavior in addition to emotional detachment and reduced empathy. Their empathic deficits are thought to be associated with a reduced responsiveness to emotional stimuli. Immediate facial muscle responses to the emotional expressions of others reflect the expressive part of emotional responsiveness and are positively related to trait empathy. Empirical evidence for reduced facial muscle responses in adult psychopathic individuals to the emotional expressions of others is rare. In the present study, 261 male criminal offenders and non-offenders categorized dynamically presented facial emotion expressions (angry, happy, sad, and neutral) during facial electromyography recording of their corrugator muscle activity. We replicated a measurement model of facial muscle activity, which controls for general facial responsiveness to face stimuli, and modeled three correlated emotion-specific factors (i.e., anger, happiness, and sadness) representing emotion specific activity. In a multi-group confirmatory factor analysis, we compared the means of the anger, happiness, and sadness latent factors between three groups: 1) non-offenders, 2) low, and 3) high psychopathic offenders. There were no significant mean differences between groups. Our results challenge current theories that focus on deficits in emotional responsiveness as leading to the development of psychopathy and encourage further theoretical development on deviant emotional processes in psychopathic individuals.
Project description:Empathy is a rather elaborated human ability and several recent studies highlight significant impairments in patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. Therefore, the present study aimed at comparing behavioral empathy performance in schizophrenia, bipolar and depressed patients with healthy controls. All subjects performed three tasks tapping the core components of empathy: emotion recognition, emotional perspective taking and affective responsiveness. Groups were matched for age, gender, and verbal intelligence. Data analysis revealed three main findings: First, schizophrenia patients showed the strongest impairment in empathic performance followed by bipolar patients while depressed patients performed similar to controls in most tasks, except for affective responsiveness. Second, a significant association between clinical characteristics and empathy performance was only apparent in depression, indicating worse affective responsiveness with stronger symptom severity and longer duration of illness. Third, self-report data indicate that particularly bipolar patients describe themselves as less empathic, reporting less empathic concern and less perspective taking. Taken together, this study constitutes the first approach to directly compare specificity of empathic deficits in severe psychiatric disorders. Our results suggest disorder-specific impairments in emotional competencies that enable better characterization of the patient groups investigated and indicate different psychotherapeutic interventions.
Project description:The main objective of the present research was to examine the role played by emotional intelligence in its three dimensions-emotional attention, emotional clarity, and emotion regulation-and by empathy in its four dimensions-perspective-taking, empathic understanding, empathic stress, and empathic joy-in cyber violence, both in aggressors and victims. A total sample of 1318 adolescents (47% boys; aged between 11 and 17 years), enrolled in four secondary compulsory education schools in Spain, participated in the study. The results indicated that, regarding emotional intelligence, cyberaggressors showed statistically significant differences in the dimension of emotion regulation. Participation in violent online behaviors is associated with a lower capacity to regulate emotions; cybervictims showed statistically significant differences in the three dimensions of emotional intelligence. Regarding empathy, cyberaggressors obtained statistically significant group differences in three of these dimensions: perspective-taking, empathetic joy, and empathic stress. Finally, the empathy dimensions for the cybervictimization groups did not show significant mean differences, indicating that there was no statistical relationship between the degree of cybervictimization and the individual's empathy. These findings stress the relevance of emotion regulation in cyberviolence in students in adolescence and allow us to understand the different roles it plays for offenders and victims.
Project description:Coping has been extensively studied in health psychology; however, factors influencing the usage of different coping strategies have received limited attention. In five studies (N = 3702), we explored the relationship between trait empathy and coping strategies, and how subjective socioeconomic status (SES) moderates this relationship. In Studies 1-4, we found that people with higher level of empathic concern use more adaptive coping strategies, seek more social support, and use fewer maladaptive coping strategies. Moreover, higher trait empathy related to more adaptive coping strategies among the poor, and fewer maladaptive coping strategies among the rich. In Study 5, we tested the potential biological basis of the relationship between trait empathy and coping by examining the effect of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) rs53576 polymorphism on coping. We found that individuals with the GG phenotype-who in previous research have been found to be more empathic-were more likely to seek social support than AG or AA individuals. Furthermore, in line with findings in Studies 1-4, amongst people with low SES, individuals with GG genotype used more adaptive coping strategies than AG or AA individuals. Our results highlight the selective role trait empathy plays in influencing coping strategy deployment, depending on the SES of individuals.