Empathy is related to the natural human ability to understand emotions and feelings of others, where a sort of “resonance” mechanism between the observer and the observed permits a direct form of understanding. The present study explored four different measures related to empathic behavior in a social context: autonomic behavior (skin conductance — SCR, and heart rate — HR), personal response to empathic scale (BEES), approach–withdrawal attitudes (BIS/BAS), and verbal self-report measures. Participants were presented with different interpersonal scene types (cooperation, non-cooperation, conflict, indifference), and they were required to empathize with them. Different autonomic response patterns were found as a function of the interpersonal situations: SCR and HR increased in case of conflictual and non-cooperative situations. This result was confirmed by self-rating measures on empathy, since emotional involvement and valence attributed to the scenes varied in concomitance with psychophysiological parameters. Third, high and low BEES subjects showed different empathic behavior: high empathic subjects were more responsive (on both self-report and autonomic response) to empathy-related situations than low empathic subjects. Finally, BIS and BAS attitudes demonstrated a significant relationship with both BEES and autonomic patterns: high BAS subjects were more responsive and empathic with positive, cooperative situations, whereas high BIS empathized with more negative, conflictual situations. The convergence of these multidimensional measures was discussed.
- Autonomic measures