Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 161–169 | Cite as

Empathy in Cooperative Versus Non-cooperative Situations: The Contribution of Self-Report Measures and Autonomic Responses

  • Michela Balconi
  • Adriana Bortolotti


Shared representations, emotion comprehension, and emotion regulation constitute the basic macro components of social empathy. The present study integrated two different measures of empathic behavior in a social context: verbal self-report measures (empathic response, emotional involvement and emotional significance, and valence), and autonomic responses (facial expression-corrugator supercilii and zygomaticus major muscle-, SCR—skin conductance-, and HR—heart rate-). Participants (N = thirty-five) were presented with different interpersonal scene types (cooperation, non-cooperation, conflict, indifference). Different empathic sensitivity to these interpersonal situations was verified, since self-rating on empathy, emotional involvement and valence varied as a function of interpersonal context. Situation rated as more empathically significant were considered also as the most positive (cooperation) and negative (non cooperation and conflictual) and emotionally significant (high emotional significance of the scenes) in comparison with neutral scenes. Nevertheless, subjective empathic response and personal emotional involvement were found to be dissociated measures in non-cooperative condition. On the autonomic level, facial mimicry was linked to and coherent with the empathic response in cooperative, non-cooperative and conflictual conditions, whereas SCR and HR were increased only in response to cooperative and conflictual situation, rated as more involving by the subject. The convergence of these multidimensional measures was discussed: empirical evidences are far from able to warrant claims that processes of emotional contagion and simulation provide the sole, primary important way by which we come to know what others are feeling.


Empathy Emotions Facial expression Autonomic response Emotional contagion 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology, Department of PsychologyCatholic University of MilanMilanItaly

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