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Empathy : the role of facial expression recognition Besel, Lana Diane Shyla

Abstract

This research examined whether people with higher dispositional empathy are better at recognizing facial expressions of emotion at faster presentation speeds. Facial expressions of emotion, taken from Pictures o f Facial Affect (Ekman & Friesen, 1976), were presented at two different durations: 47 ms and 2008 ms. Participants were 135 undergraduate students. They identified the emotion displayed in the expression from a list of the basic emotions. The first part of this research explored connections between expression recognition and the common cognitive empathy/emotional empathy distinction. Two factors from the Interpersonal Reactivity Scale (IRS; Davis, 1983) measured self-reported tendencies to experience cognitive empathy and emotional empathy: Perspective Taking (IRS-PT), and Empathic Concern (IRS-EC), respectively. Results showed that emotional empathy significantly positively predicted performance at 47 ms, but not at 2008 ms and cognitive empathy did not significantly predict performance at either duration. The second part examined empathy deficits. The kinds of emotional empathy deficits that comprise psychopathy were measured by the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (SRP-III; Paulhus, Hemphill; & Hare, in press). Cognitive empathy deficits were explored using the Empathy Quotient (EQ; Shaw et al., 2004). Results showed that the callous affect factor of the SRP (SRP-CA) was the only significant predictor at 47 ms, with higher callous affect scores associated with lower performance. SRP-CA is a deficit in emotional empathy, and thus, these results match the first paper's results. At 2008 ms, the social skills factor of the EQ was significantly positively predictive, indicating that people with less social competence had more trouble recognizing facial expressions at longer presentation durations. Neither the total scores for SRP nor EQ were significant predictors of identification accuracy at 47 ms and 2008 ms. Together, the results suggest that a disposition to react emotionally to the emotions of others, and remain other-focussed, provides a specific advantage for accurately recognizing briefly presented facial expressions, compared to people with lower dispositional emotional empathy.

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