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Emotional sensitivity and sympathetic behavior Crockett, David James

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the proposition that the accurate perception of the emotional state of another person would serve as an important determinant of the degree of the perceiver's physiological arousal and that this emotional arousal would serve to instigate an act designed to alleviate the distress of the other person. The subjects were asked to administer increasingly painful shocks to a performer who sat behind a screen. Two degrees of responsibility for inflicting pain and two different kinds of feedback of verbal cues of the performer's pain were combined in a 2X2 factorial design. In the Responsibility conditions either the subject or the experimenter took the responsibility for administering the aversive stimulation to the performer. In the Verbal conditions the performer either responded verbally at the moment of apparent shock or remained silent. The subjects, 40 volunteers, 20 males and 20 females, were randomly assigned to one of the four experimental conditions with the stipulation that each group contained a balanced number of males and females. During this experiment a Grass Polygraph provided a continuous record of the observing subjects' GSR reactivity. The subjects were also required to complete three of Davitz's test of emotional sensitivity (1964), Knowledge of Vocal Characteristics, Sensitivity to Vocal Stimuli, and the Metaphors Test. The main effects for Responsibility and Verbal conditions were analyzed in terms of their relationship to the experimental measures. The Combined Emotional Sensitivity score and the individual scores on the emotional sensitivity battery for all the subjects were correlated with the experimental measures. This procedure was repeated for each experimental group and for the verbalization trials alone. It was hypothesized that differences in emotional sensitivity, as measured by Davitz's test (1964), would be positively related to the number of sympathetic arousals, increases in the level of conductance, and negatively related to the number of shocks administered to the performer. Increased responsibility for administering the shock to the performer and the feedback of verbal pain cues hypothesized to be related to increases in the level of conductance throughout the whole experiment, to the number of changes in conductance at the time of the administration of the shock to the performer, and the magnitude of the changes in conductance at the time of the administration of the shocks to the performer. It was found that the Verbal condition was related to higher numbers of sympathetic arousals given at the time the shock was administered. This finding was related to S.Berger's (1962) findings and to the two phase model of sympathetic behavior suggested by Paskal and Aronfreed (l965). A significant relationship between the change in the level of conductance and the number of shocks administered was found. This suggested that the subject may have been aroused solely by being asked to witness the administration to aversive stimulation to the subject. However, cognitive-perceptual patterns of emotional sensitivity, as assessed with Davitz's measures, were not found to be related to the experimental measures of sympathetic behavior. It was suggested that these scores may have been determined by factors not necessarily related to the factors under consideration.

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