53rd Annual Meeting of Society of psychophysiological research
Previous research has widely shown different physiological responses depending on the affective valence and arousal of the eliciting stimuli. These reactions play an important role in survival because they promote approach and withdrawal behaviours. But humans are social beings, and their survival may also depend on their interactions with others. We investigated whether the social content of affective stimuli and the level of empathy of subjects influenced physiological reactions. We recorded heart rate (HR), skin conductance response (SCR) and corrugator supercilii electromyographic (EMG) activity in 73 participants while they viewed a series of 81 pictures varying in affective valence and social content. Participants were classified as high or low in empathy depending on their scores in the Interpersonal Reactivity Index Scale. High empathic subjects showed greater EMG activity promoted by the unpleasant pictures. We also found an effect of the social content on the SCRs and EMG activity promoted by the affective pictures. Both groups did not differ in HR and SCRs promoted by the pictures. The differences found between high and low empathic subjects may rely on reactions to affective rather than to social content. Facial expressions have been proposed as primary tactical responses that depend on the specific context and play an important role in social communication. Accordingly, high empathic subjects may develop greater tactical responses and, therefore, display a better social communication of aversive situations.