Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 115–128

The Effect of Emotional Distance on Psychophysiologic Concordance and Perceived Empathy Between Patient and Interviewer


This preliminary study investigated the effect of emotional distance on psychophysiologic concordance and perceived empathy in a clinical population. Participants included 20 adult outpatients from a mental health clinic that underwent a brief semi-structured interview with a trained psychiatrist in either an emotionally neutral or an emotionally distant condition. Simultaneous skin conductance (SC) levels of the patient and interviewer were recorded and used to calculate a measure of psychophysiologic concordance. Interviewer gaze was rated by an independent observer and used as a proxy indicator of emotional distance. Observer ratings of interviewer gaze, SC concordance, and patient ratings of perceived interviewer empathy were significantly lower in the emotionally distant condition compared with the emotionally neutral condition (p < 0.05). Results suggest that increased emotional distance is associated with decreased psychophysiologic concordance and reduced subjective ratings of perceived empathy. The observed differences in psychophysiologic concordance support the use of this measure as a potential marker of empathy in a clinical population in an interview setting.


empathy emotional distance skin conductance psychophysiology gaze 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryMassachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Veterans Affairs Medical CenterManchesterUSA
  3. 3.Director of Social Neuroscience, Department of PsychiatryMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA

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