The phenomenon of empathy entails the ability to share the affective experiences of others. In recent years social neuroscience made considerable progress in revealing the mechanisms that enable a person to feel what another is feeling. The present review provides an in-depth and critical discussion of these findings. Consistent evidence shows that sharing the emotions of others is associated with activation in neural structures that are also active during the first-hand experience of that emotion. Part of the neural activation shared between self- and other-related experiences seems to be rather automatically activated. However, recent studies also show that empathy is a highly flexible phenomenon, and that vicarious responses are malleable with respect to a number of factors—such as contextual appraisal, the interpersonal relationship between empathizer and other, or the perspective adopted during observation of the other. Future investigations are needed to provide more detailed insights into these factors and their neural underpinnings. Questions such as whether individual differences in empathy can be explained by stable personality traits, whether we can train ourselves to be more empathic, and how empathy relates to prosocial behavior are of utmost relevance for both science and society.
We present a new sparse shape modeling framework on the Laplace-Beltrami (LB) eigenfunctions. Traditionally, the LB-eigenfunctions are used as a basis for intrinsically representing surface shapes by forming a Fourier series expansion. To reduce high frequency noise, only the first few terms are used in the expansion and higher frequency terms are simply thrown away. However, some lower frequency terms may not necessarily contribute significantly in reconstructing the surfaces. Motivated by this idea, we propose to filter out only the significant eigenfunctions by imposing l1-penalty. The new sparse framework can further avoid additional surface-based smoothing often used in the field. The proposed approach is applied in investigating the influence of age (38-79 years) and gender on amygdala and hippocampus shapes in the normal population. In addition, we show how the emotional response is related to the anatomy of the subcortical structures.
<p>Illustrates parallels between global descriptions of internal states in clinical and personality psychology and notions of global arousal in autonomic and central psychophysiology. Such assumptions about the undifferentiated nature of internal states are questioned on the basis of recent psychophysiological research. Data are reviewed on cortical specificity and its implications for conceptualizing clinically relevant cognitive and affective processes. Principles of psychophysiological specificity are applied to the understanding and self-regulation of anxiety. General implications of this approach for the rationally based construction of therapeutic interventions are discussed. (41 ref)</p>
The present study was undertaken to determine whether aversiveness contributes to startle potentiation in anticipation of affective pictures above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal. Further, participants high in trait anxious apprehension, which is characterized by worry about the future, were expected to show especially pronounced anticipatory startle responses. Startle blink reflex was measured during warning stimuli that predicted the valence of ensuing aversive/unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral pictures. Startle magnitude was larger in anticipation of aversive than of pleasant pictures and smallest in anticipation of neutral pictures. Enhanced startle potentiation was not found in anxious apprehension subjects. These data suggest that the aversive nature of stimuli contribute to the potentiation of startle above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal, which may be a universal phenomenon not modulated by individual differences.
<p>Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.</p>
Despite the prominence of emotional dysfunction in psychopathology, relatively few experiments have explicitly studied emotion regulation in adults. The present study examined one type of emotion regulation: voluntary regulation of short-term emotional responses to unpleasant visual stimuli. In a sample of 48 college students, both eyeblink startle magnitude and corrugator activity were sensitive to experimental manipulation. Instructions to suppress negative emotion led to both smaller startle eyeblinks and decreased corrugator activity. Instructions to enhance negative emotion led to larger startle eyeblinks and increased corrugator activity. Several advantages of this experimental manipulation are discussed, including the use of both a suppress and an enhance emotion condition, independent measurement of initial emotion elicitation and subsequent regulation of that emotion, the use of a completely within-subjects design, and the use of naturalistic emotion regulation strategies.
What happens when people suppress their emotions when they sacrifice for a romantic partner? This multimethod study investigates how suppressing emotions during sacrifice shapes affective and relationship outcomes. In Part 1, dating couples came into the laboratory to discuss important romantic relationship sacrifices. Suppressing emotions was associated with emotional costs for the partner discussing his or her sacrifice. In Part 2, couples participated in a 14-day daily experience study. Within-person increases in emotional suppression during daily sacrifice were associated with decreases in emotional well-being and relationship quality as reported by both members of romantic dyads. In Part 3, suppression predicted decreases in relationship satisfaction and increases in thoughts about breaking up with a romantic partner 3 months later. In the first two parts of the study, authenticity mediated the costly effects of suppression. Implications for research on close relationships and emotion regulation are discussed.
<p>Recent evidence suggests that frontal brain electrical activity reveals asymmetries in activation in response to positive vs negative affective stimuli. This study was designed to evaluate whether this asymmetry is present at birth. Newborn infants were presented with water followed by a sucrose solution and then by a citric acid solution. Facial expression was videotaped during the presentation of the liquids and EEG was recorded from the frontal and parietal scalp regions on the left and right side. Usable EEG data were obtained from 16 newborn infants in response to these taste conditions. Videotaping of facial expression in response to these stimuli indicated the presence of disgust during both water (the first taste introduced) and citric acid. EEG was Fourier Transformed and power in the 1-3, 3-6 and 6-12 Hz bands was computed. The findings revealed that the water condition produced reductions in right-hemisphere power in the two higher frequency bands in both the scalp regions compared with the other two conditions. The sucrose condition produced greater relative left-sided activation in both regions compared with the water condition. These data, in conjunction with our previous findings of asymmetries in 10-month-old infants, indicate that stimulus-elicited affective asymmetries in brain electrical activity are present at birth.</p>
Mindfulness, or being fully present and attentive to the moment, not only improves the way doctors engage with patients but also mitigates the stresses of clinical practice.
In the present study, we examined the stability of one measure of emotion, the emotion-modulated acoustic startle response, in an undergraduate sample. Using the acoustic startle paradigm on two different occasions, we measured stability of affective modulation of the startle response during and following the presentation of pictures selected to be of positive, negative, or neutral emotional valence. The two assessments were separated by 4 weeks. Two groups of subjects were compared: one group that viewed the same pictures at each assessment and a second group that viewed different pictures at the second assessment. We found that viewing different pictures at two assessments separated by 4 weeks yielded moderate stability of the emotion modulation of startle magnitude, whereas subjects who viewed the same pictures at both assessments showed poor stability. Furthermore, this difference was due to the stability of responses to high versus low arousal pictures, not to differences in valence.
The study of emotional signaling has focused almost exclusively on the face and voice. In 2 studies, the authors investigated whether people can identify emotions from the experience of being touched by a stranger on the arm (without seeing the touch). In the 3rd study, they investigated whether observers can identify emotions from watching someone being touched on the arm. Two kinds of evidence suggest that humans can communicate numerous emotions with touch. First, participants in the United States (Study 1) and Spain (Study 2) could decode anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy via touch at much-better-than-chance levels. Second, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. In Study 3, the authors provide evidence that participants can accurately decode distinct emotions by merely watching others communicate via touch. The findings are discussed in terms of their contributions to affective science and the evolution of altruism and cooperation.
This preliminary study examined whether the practice of mind–body techniques decreases symptoms of posttraumatic stress in adolescents. Posttraumatic Stress Reaction Index questionnaires were collected from 139 high school students in Kosovo who participated in a 6-week program that included meditation, biofeedback, drawings, autogenic training, guided imagery, genograms, movement, and breathing techniques. Three separate programs were held approximately 2 months apart. There was no control group. Posttraumatic stress scores significantly decreased after participation in the programs. These scores remained decreased in the 2 groups that participated in the follow-up study when compared to pretest measures. These data indicate that mind–body skills groups were effective in reducing posttraumatic stress symptoms in war-traumatized high school students.
<p>BACKGROUND: Many anecdotes and several uncontrolled case series have suggested that emotionally stressful events, and more specifically, anger, immediately precede and appear to trigger the onset of acute myocardial infarction. However, controlled studies to determine the relative risk of myocardial infarction after episodes of anger have not been reported. METHODS AND RESULTS: We interviewed 1623 patients (501 women) an average of 4 days after myocardial infarction. The interview identified the time, place, and quality of myocardial infarction pain and other symptoms, the estimated usual frequency of anger during the previous year, and the intensity and timing of anger and other potentially triggering factors during the 26 hours before the onset of myocardial infarction. Anger was assessed by the onset anger scale, a single-item, seven-level, self-report scale, and the state anger subscale of the State-Trait Personality Inventory. Occurrence of anger in the 2 hours preceding the onset of myocardial infarction was compared with its expected frequency using two types of self-matched control data based on the case-crossover study design. The onset anger scale identified 39 patients with episodes of anger in the 2 hours before the onset of myocardial infarction. The relative risk of myocardial infarction in the 2 hours after an episode of anger was 2.3 (95% confidence interval, 1.7 to 3.2). The state anger subscale corroborated these findings with a relative risk of 1.9 (95% confidence interval, 1.3 to 2.7). Regular users of aspirin had a significantly lower relative risk (1.4; 95% confidence interval, 0.8 to 2.6) than nonusers (2.9; 95% confidence interval, 2.0 to 4.1) (P<.05). CONCLUSIONS: Episodes of anger are capable of triggering the onset of acute myocardial infarction, but aspirin may reduce this risk. A better understanding of the manner in which external events trigger the onset of acute cardiovascular events may lead to innovative preventive strategies aimed at severing the link between these external stressors and their pathological consequences.</p>
Planned and reflexive behaviors often occur in the presence of emotional stimuli and within the context of an individual's acute emotional state. Therefore, determining the manner in which emotion and attention interact is an important step toward understanding how we function in the real world. Participants in the current investigation viewed centrally displayed, task-irrelevant, face distractors (angry, neutral, happy) while performing a lateralized go/no-go continuous performance task. Lateralized go targets and no-go lures that did not spatially overlap with the faces were employed to differentially probe processing in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres. There was a significant interaction between expression and hemisphere, with an overall pattern such that angry distractors were associated with relatively more RH inhibitory errors than neutral or happy distractors and happy distractors with relatively more LH inhibitory errors than angry or neutral distractors. Simple effects analyses confirmed that angry faces differentially interfered with RH relative to LH inhibition and with inhibition in the RH relative to happy faces. A significant three-way interaction further revealed that state anxiety moderated relations between emotional expression and hemisphere. Under conditions of low cognitive load, more intense anxiety was associated with relatively greater RH than LH impairment in the presence of both happy and threatening distractors. By contrast, under high load, only angry distractors produced greater RH than LH interference as a function of anxiety.
Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups. Little is known, however, about how and why people share reputational information. Here, we seek to establish the existence and dynamics of prosocial gossip, the sharing of negative evaluative information about a target in a way that protects others from antisocial or exploitative behavior. We present a model of prosocial gossip and the results of 4 studies testing the model's claims. Results of Studies 1 through 3 demonstrate that (a) individuals who observe an antisocial act experience negative affect and are compelled to share information about the antisocial actor with a potentially vulnerable person, (b) sharing such information reduces negative affect created by observing the antisocial behavior, and (c) individuals possessing more prosocial orientations are the most motivated to engage in such gossip, even at a personal cost, and exhibit the greatest reduction in negative affect as a result. Study 4 demonstrates that prosocial gossip can effectively deter selfishness and promote cooperation. Taken together these results highlight the roles of prosocial motivations and negative affective reactions to injustice in maintaining reputational information sharing in groups. We conclude by discussing implications for reputational theories of the maintenance of cooperation in human groups.
Studies of emotion signaling inform claims about the taxonomic structure, evolutionary origins, and physiological correlates of emotions. Emotion vocalization research has tended to focus on a limited set of emotions: anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, happiness, and for the voice, also tenderness. Here, we examine how well brief vocal bursts can communicate 22 different emotions: 9 negative (Study 1) and 13 positive (Study 2), and whether prototypical vocal bursts convey emotions more reliably than heterogeneous vocal bursts (Study 3). Results show that vocal bursts communicate emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, as well as seldom-studied states like awe, compassion, interest, and embarrassment. Ancillary analyses reveal family-wise patterns of vocal burst expression. Errors in classification were more common within emotion families (e.g., 'self-conscious,' 'pro-social') than between emotion families. The three studies reported highlight the voice as a rich modality for emotion display that can inform fundamental constructs about emotion.
<p>The human voice is one of the principal conveyers of social and affective communication. Yet relatively little is known about the neural circuitry that supports the recognition of different vocally expressed emotions. We conducted an FMRI study to examine the brain responses to vocal expressions of anger and happiness, and to test whether specific brain regions showed preferential engagement in the processing of one emotion over the other. We also tested the extent to which simultaneously presented facial expressions of the same or different emotions would enhance brain responses, and to what degree such responses depend on attention towards the vocal expression. Forty healthy individuals were scanned while listening to vocal expressions of anger or happiness, while at the same time watching congruent or discrepant facial expressions. Happy voices elicited significantly more activation than angry voices in right anterior and posterior middle temporal gyrus (MTG), left posterior MTG and right inferior frontal gyrus. Furthermore, for the left MTG region, happy voices were related to higher activation only when paired with happy faces. Activation in the left insula, left amygdala and hippocampus, and rostral anterior cingulate cortex showed an effect of selectively attending to the vocal stimuli. Our results identify a network of regions implicated in the processing of vocal emotion, and suggest a particularly salient role for vocal expressions of happiness.</p>
Facial expressions of pain are an important part of the pain response, signaling distress to others and eliciting social support. To evaluate how voluntary modulation of this response contributes to the pain experience, 29 subjects were exposed to thermal stimulation while making standardized pain, control, or relaxed faces. Dependent measures were self-reported negative effect (valence and arousal) as well as the intensity of nociceptive stimulation required to reach a given subjective level of pain. No direct social feedback was given by the experimenter. Although the amount of nociceptive stimulation did not differ across face conditions, subjects reported more negative effects in response to painful stimulation while holding the pain face. Subsequent analyses suggested the effects were not due to preexisting differences in the difficulty or unpleasantness of making the pain face. These results suggest that voluntary pain expressions have no positively reinforcing (pain attenuating) qualities, at least in the absence of external contingencies such as social reinforcement, and that such expressions may indeed be associated with higher levels of negative affect in response to similar nociceptive input. PERSPECTIVE: This study demonstrates that making a standardized pain face increases negative affect in response to nociceptive stimulation, even in the absence of social feedback. This suggests that exaggerated facial displays of pain, although often socially reinforced, may also have unintended aversive consequences.
This commentary provides reflections on the current state of affairs in research on EEG frontal asymmetries associated with affect. Although considerable progress has occurred since the first report on this topic 25 years ago, research on frontal EEG asymmetries associated with affect has largely evolved in the absence of any serious connection with neuroscience research on the structure and function of the primate prefrontal cortex (PFC). Such integration is important as this work progresses since the neuroscience literature can help to understand what the prefrontal cortex is "doing" in affective processing. Data from the neuroscience literature on the heterogeneity of different sectors of the PFC are introduced and more specific hypotheses are offered about what different sectors of the PFC might be doing in affect. A number of methodological issues associated with EEG measures of functional prefrontal asymmetries are also considered.
<p>This article opens by noting that positive emotions do not fit existing models of emotions. Consequently, a new model is advanced to describe the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment, and love. This new model posits that these positive emotions serve to broaden an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire, which in turn has the effect of building that individual's physical, intellectual, and social resources. Empirical evidence to support this broaden-and-build model of positive emotions is reviewed, and implications for emotion regulation and health promotion are discussed.</p>
It has been widely assumed that emotional avoidance during bereavement leads to either prolonged grief, delayed grief, or delayed somatic symptoms. To test this view, as well as a contrasting adaptive hypothesis, emotional avoidance was measured 6 months after a conjugal loss as negative verbal-autonomic response dissociation (low self-rated negative emotion coupled with heightened cardiovascular activity) and compared with grief measured at 6 and 14 months. The negative dissociation score evidenced reliability and validity but did not evidence the assumed link to severe grief. Rather, consistent with the adaptive hypothesis, negative dissociation at 6 months was associated with minimal grief symptoms across 14 months. Negative dissociation scores were also linked to initially high levels of somatic symptoms, which dropped to a low level by 14 months. Possible explanations for the initial cost and long-term adaptive quality of emotional avoidance during bereavement, as well as implications and limitations of the findings, are discussed.
Who benefits most from making sacrifices for others? The current study provides one answer to this question by demonstrating the intrinsic benefits of sacrifice for people who are highly motivated to respond to a specific romantic partner's needs noncontingently, a phenomenon termed communal strength. In a 14-day daily-experience study of 69 romantic couples, communal strength was positively associated with positive emotions during the sacrifice itself, with feeling appreciated by the partner for the sacrifice, and with feelings of relationship satisfaction on the day of the sacrifice. Furthermore, feelings of authenticity for the sacrifice mediated these associations. Several alternative hypotheses were ruled out: The effects were not due to individuals higher in communal strength making qualitatively different kinds of sacrifices, being more positive in general, or being involved in happier relationships. Implications for research and theory on communal relationships and positive emotions are discussed.
Prosociality is fundamental to social relationships, but providing it indiscriminately risks exploitation by egoists. Past work demonstrates that individuals avoid these risks through a more selective form of prosociality, cooperating less and sharing fewer resources with egoists (e.g. Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981). The evolution of cooperation. Science, 211(4489), 1390–1396). We extend this work to explore whether individuals experience reduced prosocial affective and physiological responses to egoists in situations where they are suffering. In two studies, participants learned of a target’s egoistic or non-egoistic traits, and then encountered the target suffering. Suffering egoists evoked less compassion in others than non-egoists and elicited physiological responses that diverged from patterns associated with compassion and social engagement (reduced heart rate and greater respiratory sinus arrhythmia activity). Participants' feelings of distrust toward egoists explained these attenuated emotional and physiological responses. These results build upon studies of prosocial behavior by suggesting that individuals experience reduced prosocial emotional and physiological responses toward suffering egoists.