The Influence of Perspective Taking and Anxiety on Empathy-related Responses

Negd, Monika (2010). The Influence of Perspective Taking and Anxiety on Empathy-related Responses Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Negd, Monika
Thesis Title The Influence of Perspective Taking and Anxiety on Empathy-related Responses
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Kimberley Mallan
Total pages 75
Abstract/Summary It has been suggested that empathy-related concern and empathy-related distress are two related but distinct emotions that are involved in an overall empathy response (Batson et al., 1987). Cognitive perspective taking has been linked to levels of empathy, however it remains unclear which model of perspective taking – Objective, Imagine-self or Imagine-other – promotes optimal empathy. State and trait anxiety have also been suggested to have a significant influence on empathy-related responses, however results from previous literature have been mixed. The current study investigated the effect of perspective taking instructions and anxiety on self-reported levels of empathy-related concern and distress felt for a target character in six different emotion-inducing vignettes. Perspective taking was manipulated within-subjects with all participants (N = 52) completing an imagine-self, imagine-other or objective Perspective Taking condition for two of the six vignettes. A Threat of Shock paradigm was used to manipulate anxiety between-subjects. Half of the participants ("threat of shock" group) were presented with an unpleasant electro-tactile stimulus at random during the experiment, the other half of the participants ("no shock" group) were not. Perspective taking instructions were found to have an effect on both empathy-related concern and empathy-related distress, with the Objective condition eliciting lower levels of both compared to the Imagine-other and Imagine-self conditions. Participants in the "threat of shock" condition reported higher levels of anxiety during the experiment and reported lower levels of empathy-related distress for the targets than participants in the "no shock" condition. Implications of the results will be discussed in terms of clinician training.

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