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Vicarious Fear Learning Depends on Empathic Appraisals and Trait Empathy
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Aging Research Center (ARC), (together with KI).
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Number of Authors: 6
2016 (English)In: Psychological Science, ISSN 0956-7976, E-ISSN 1467-9280, Vol. 27, no 1, 25-33 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Empathy and vicarious learning of fear are increasingly understood as separate phenomena, but the interaction between the two remains poorly understood. We investigated how social (vicarious) fear learning is affected by empathic appraisals by asking participants to either enhance or decrease their empathic responses to another individual (the demonstrator), who received electric shocks paired with a predictive conditioned stimulus. A third group of participants received no appraisal instructions and responded naturally to the demonstrator. During a later test, participants who had enhanced their empathy evinced the strongest vicarious fear learning as measured by skin conductance responses to the conditioned stimulus in the absence of the demonstrator. Moreover, this effect was augmented in observers high in trait empathy. Our results suggest that a demonstrator's expression can serve as a social unconditioned stimulus (US), similar to a personally experienced US in Pavlovian fear conditioning, and that learning from a social US depends on both empathic appraisals and the observers' stable traits.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 27, no 1, 25-33 p.
Keyword [en]
observational aversive learning, social conditioning, skin conductance, emotions, expressions, open data
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-126767DOI: 10.1177/0956797615604124ISI: 000368592300003PubMedID: 26637357OAI: diva2:944535
Available from: 2016-06-29 Created: 2016-02-15 Last updated: 2016-06-29Bibliographically approved

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