Empathic concern and personal distress depend on situational but not dispositional factors

Autoři: Sarah Fabi aff001;  Lydia Anna Weber aff002;  Hartmut Leuthold aff001
Působiště autorů: Department of Psychology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany aff001;  Universitätsklinikum Tübingen, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany aff002
Vyšlo v časopise: PLoS ONE 14(11)
Kategorie: Research Article
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225102


Empathic concern and personal distress are empathic responses that may result when observing someone in discomfort. Even though these empathic responses have received much attention in past research, it is still unclear which conditions contribute to their respective experience. Hence, the main goal of this study was to examine if dispositional empathic traits or rather situational variables are more likely to evoke empathic concern and personal distress and how the two empathic responses influence motor responses. We presented pictures of persons in psychological, physical, or no pain with matched descriptions of situations that promoted an other-focused state. Approach-avoidance movements were demanded by a subsequently presented tone. While psychological pain led to more empathic concern, physical pain led to higher ratings of personal distress. Linear mixed-effects modelling analysis further revealed that situational factors, such as the type of pain but also the affect experienced by the participants before the experiment predicted the two empathic responses, whereas dispositional empathic traits had no significant influence. In addition, the more intensely the empathic responses were experienced, the faster were movements initiated, presumably reflecting an effect of arousal. Overall, the present study advances our understanding of empathic responses to people in need and provides novel methodological tools to effectively manipulate and analyze empathic concern and personal distress in future research.

Klíčová slova:

Behavior – Cognition – Emotions – Memory – Motivation – Motor system – Myocardial infarction – Pain psychology


1. Lamm C, Batson CD, Decety J. The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 2007;19: 42–58. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2007.19.1.42 17214562

2. Decety J, Jackson PL. The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews. 2004;3: 71–100. doi: 10.1177/1534582304267187 15537986

3. Eisenberg N, Eggum ND. Empathic responding: sympathy and personal distress. In: Decety J, Ickes W, editors. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge: Massachusetts: The MIT Press. 2009. pp. 71–83.

4. Singer T, Lamm C. The social neuroscience of empathy. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009;1156: 81–96. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04418.x 19338504

5. Preston SD, Hofelich AJ. The many faces of empathy: Parsing empathic phenomena through a proximate, dynamic-systems view of representing the other in the self. Emotion Review. 2012;4: 24–33.

6. Hall JA, Schwartz R. Empathy present and future. Journal of Social Psychology. 2019;159: 225–243. doi: 10.1080/00224545.2018.1477442 29781776

7. Myszkowski N, Brunet-Gouet E, Roux P, Robieux L, Malézieux A, Boujut E, et al. Is the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy measuring two or five dimensions? Evidence in a French sample. Psychiatry Research. 2017;255: 292–296. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.05.047 28600998

8. Kanske P, Böckler A, Trautwein FM, Parianen Lesemann FH, Singer T. Are strong empathizers better mentalizers? Evidence for independence and interaction between the routes of social cognition. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. 2016;11: 1383–1392. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw052 27129794

9. Batson CD, Fultz J, Schoenrade PA. Distress and empathy: Two qualitatively distinct vicarious emotions with different motivational consequences. Journal of Personality. 1987;55: 19–39. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00426.x 3572705

10. Batson CD, Early S, Salvarani G. Perspective taking: Imagining how another feels versus imaging how you would feel. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1997;23: 751–758.

11. Bernhardt BC, Singer T. The neural basis of empathy. Annual review of neuroscience. 2012;35: 1–23. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150536 22715878

12. Jordan MR, Amir D, Bloom P. Are empathy and concern psychologically distinct?. Emotion. 2016;16: 1107. doi: 10.1037/emo0000228 27668802

13. Eisenberg N, Shea CL, Carlo G, Knight GP. Empathy-related responding and cognition: A “chicken and the egg” dilemma. Handbook of Moral Behavior and Development: Research. 1991;2: 63–88.

14. Batson CD, O’Quin K, Fultz J, Vanderplas M, Isen AM. Influence of self-reported distress and empathy on egoistic versus altruistic motivation to help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1983;45: 706.

15. Decety J. The neurodevelopment of empathy in humans. Developmental Neuroscience. 2010;32: 257–267. doi: 10.1159/000317771 20805682

16. Zaki J. Empathy: a motivated account. Psychological Bulletin, 2014:140, 1608–1647. doi: 10.1037/a0037679 25347133

17. Decety J, Lamm C. Empathy versus personal distress: recent evidence from social neuroscience. In: Decety J, Ickes W, editors. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge: Massachusetts: The MIT Press. 2009. pp. 199–213.

18. Batson CD, McDavis K, Felix R, Goering B, Goldman R. Effects of false feedback of arousal on perceived emotional state and helping. 1976; Unpublished manuscript. University of Kansas.

19. Davis MH. Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1983;44: 113–126.

20. Davis MH. The effects of dispositional empathy on emotional reactions and helping: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality. 1983;51: 167–184.

21. Coke JS, Batson CD, McDavis K. Empathic mediation of helping: A two-stage model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1978;36: 752.

22. Eisenberg N, Fabes RA, Murphy B, Karbon M, Maszk P, Smith M, et al. The relations of emotionality and regulation to dispositional and situational empathy-related responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1994;66: 776. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.66.4.776 8189352

23. Light SN, Moran ZD, Swander L, Le V, Cage B, Burghy C, et al. Electromyographically assessed empathic concern and empathic happiness predict increased prosocial behavior in adults. Biological Psychology. 2015;104: 116–129. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.11.015 25486408

24. Zickfeld JH, Schubert TW, Seibt B, Fiske AP. Empathic concern is part of a more general communal emotion. Frontiers in Psychology. 2017;8: 723. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00723 28539901

25. Wondra JD, Ellsworth PC. An appraisal theory of empathy and other vicarious emotional experiences. Psychological Review. 2015;122: 411–428. doi: 10.1037/a0039252 25961468

26. López-Pérez B, Carrera P, Ambrona T, Oceja L. Testing the qualitative differences between empathy and personal distress: Measuring core affect and self-orientation. The Social Science Journal. 2014;51: 676–680.

27. Jackson PL, Brunet E, Meltzoff AN, Decety J. Empathy examined through the neural mechanisms involved in imagining how I feel versus how you feel pain. Neuropsychologia. 2006;44: 752–761. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2005.07.015 16140345

28. Watson D, Clark LA, Tellegen A. Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1988;54: 1063–1070. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.54.6.1063 3397865

29. Judd CM, Westfall J, Kenny DA. Treating stimuli as a random factor in social psychology: A new and comprehensive solution to a pervasive but largely ignored problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012;103:54–69. doi: 10.1037/a0028347 22612667

30. Fabi S, Leuthold H. Empathy for Pain Influences Perceptual and Motor Processing: Evidence from Response Force, ERPs, and EEG Oscillations. Social Neuroscience. 2017;12: 701–716. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2016.1238009 27643572

31. Fabi S, Leuthold H. Racial bias in empathy: Do we process dark- and fair-colored hands in pain differently? An EEG study. Neuropsychologia. 2018;114: 143–157. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.04.024 29702161

32. Hu K, Fan Z, He S. Uncovering the interaction between empathetic pain and cognition. Psychological Research. 2015;79: 1054–1063. doi: 10.1007/s00426-014-0634-9 25476997

33. Mella N, Studer J, Gilet AL, Labouvie-Vief G. Empathy for pain from adolescence through adulthood: an event-related brain potential study. Frontiers in Psychology. 2012;3: 501. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00501 23189065

34. Sheng F, Han S. Manipulations of cognitive strategies and intergroup relationships reduce the racial bias in empathic neural responses. NeuroImage. 2012;61: 786–797. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.04.028 22542636

35. Eisenberg N, Fabes RA, Murphy B, Karbon M, Smith M, Maszk P. The relations of children’s dispositional empathy-related responding to their emotionality, regulation, and social functioning. Developmental Psychology. 1996;32: 195.

36. Sanders A. Towards a model of stress and human performance. Acta Psychologica. 1983;53: 61–97. doi: 10.1016/0001-6918(83)90016-1 6869047

37. Moors A, De Houwer J. Automaticity: a theoretical and conceptual analysis. Psychological bulletin. 2006;132: 297. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.297 16536645

38. Morrison I, Poliakoff E, Gordon L, Downing P. Response-specific effects of pain observation on motor behavior. Cognition. 2007;104: 407–416. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2006.07.006 16919254

39. de Vignemont F, Singer T. The empathic brain: How, when and why? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2006;10: 435–441. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.08.008 16949331

40. Champely S, Ekstrom C, Dalgaard P, Gill J, Weibelzahl S, Anandkumar A, et al. 2018. Package ‘pwr’. https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/pwr/pwr.pdf (accessed August 25, 2019).

41. Cohen J, Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1988.

42. Brainard DH. The psychophysics toolbox. Spatial Vision. 1997;10: 433–436. 9176952

43. Kleiner M, Brainard D, Pelli D, Ingling A, Murray R, Broussard C. What’s new in Psychtoolbox-3. Perception. 2007;36: 1.

44. Morelli SA, Lieberman MD. The role of automaticity and attention in neural processes underlying empathy for happiness, sadness, and anxiety. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013;7: 160. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00160 23658538

45. Lang PJ, Bradley MM, Cuthbert BN. International affective picture system (IAPS): Technical manual and affective ratings. Gainesville, FL: The Center for Research in Psychophysiology, University of Florida. 1999;2.

46. Larsen JT, Norris CJ, Cacioppo JT. Effects of positive and negative affect on electromyographic activity over zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii. Psychophysiology. 2003;40: 776–785. doi: 10.1111/1469-8986.00078 14696731

47. Krieglmeyer R, De Houwer J, Deutsch R. On the nature of automatically trig- gered approach–avoidance behavior. Emotion Review. 2013;5: 280–284.

48. Krieglmeyer R, Deutsch R, De Houwer J, De Raedt R. Being moved valence activates approach-avoidance behavior independently of evaluation and approach-avoidance intentions. Psychological Science. 2010;21: 607–613. doi: 10.1177/0956797610365131 20424109

49. Krohne HW, Egloff B, Kohlmann C-W, Tausch A. Untersuchung mit einer deutschen Form der Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). [Investigation of a German Version of the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS).] Diagnostica. 1996;42: 139–156.

50. Paulus C. Der Saarbrücker Persönlichkeitsfragebogen SPF (IRI) zur Messung von Empathie: Psychometrische Evaluation der deutschen Version des Interpersonal Reactivity Index. [The Saarbrueck Personality Questionnaire on Empathy: Psychometric evaluation of the German version of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index]. 2009. http://psydok.sulb.uni-saarland.de/volltexte/2009/2363/

51. Baayen RH, Davidson DJ, Bates DM. Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language. 2008;59: 390–412.

52. Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B, Walker S. lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R package version 1.1–21. 2019

53. Batson CD, Batson JG, Slingsby JK, Harrell KL, Peekna HM, Todd RM. Empathic joy and the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1991;61: 413–426. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.61.3.413 1941512

54. Cheetham M, Pedroni AF, Angus A, Slater M, Jäncke L. Virtual Milgram: Empathic concern or personal distress? Evidence from functional MRI and dispositional measures. Frontiers In Human Neuroscience. 2009;3: 29. doi: 10.3389/neuro.09.029.2009 19876407

55. FeldmanHall O, Dalgleish T, Evans D, Mobbs D. Empathic concern drives costly altruism. Neuroimage. 2015;105: 347–356. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.10.043 25462694

56. Hu Y, Strang S, Weber B. Helping or punishing strangers: neural correlates of altruistic decisions as third-party and of its relation to empathic concern. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2015;9: 24. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00024 25741254

57. Eklund J, Andersson-Straberg T, Hansen EM. “I’ve also experienced loss and fear”: Effects of prior similar experience on empathy. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. 2009;50: 65–69. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9450.2008.00673.x 18705672

58. Melloni M, Lopez V, Ibanez A. Empathy and contextual social cognition. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2014;14: 407–425.

59. Baez S, Flichtentrei D, Prats M, Mastandueno R, Garcia AM, Cetkovich M, et al. Men, women… who cares? A population-based study on sex differences and gender roles in empathy and moral cognition. PloS ONE, 2017;12: 1–21.

60. Banissy MJ, Kanai R, Walsh V, Rees G. Inter-individual differences in empathy are reflected in human brain structure. Neuroimage. 2012;62: 2034–2039. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.05.081 22683384

61. Singer T, Seymour B, O’doherty J, Kaube H, Dolan RJ, Frith CD. Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science. 2004;303: 1157–1162. doi: 10.1126/science.1093535 14976305

62. Sun YB, Wang YZ, Wang JY, Luo F. Emotional mimicry signals pain empathy as evidenced by facial electromyography. Scientific reports, 2015;5: 1–10.

Článek vyšel v časopise


2019 Číslo 11