Empathy Traits are Associated with a Change in Arousal Levels in Response to Positive and Negative Emotions of Others

Anna Kate Luddy, Rachel Scheub, Sierra Little-Gil & Molly Helt PhD

8 thoughts on “Empathy Traits are Associated with a Change in Arousal Levels in Response to Positive and Negative Emotions of Others

  1. It is fascinating how itching is “negative” and can result in less arousal for people with psychopathy. I enjoyed reading about how the hypothesis was tested and also about changes in skin conductance. The pictures included are great as well as the overall thesis poster!

  2. Hi Anna,

    Nice work. Please below for my comments/questions.

    (1) Many of your citations don’t have references in your Works Cited section.

    (1) I’m unclear how the median split data were analyzed, to ultimately test your hypotheses and lead to the results you show in the table. Should there be a “High” listed for both the ASD and Psychopathy entries in that Results table? If not, then why did you do a median split?
    (2) In a related question, it’s unclear how your textual description of results relates to the Results table. For example, you report that the AQ scores didn’t have a significant relationship to any variable in the study. So how is it that in the results table you report that there is a relationship between ASD, positive stimuli and arousal (Less Arousal) and ASD, negative stimuli and arousal (More Arousal)? Similarly, it’s unclear how your textual reporting of empathy and arousal in response to itch stimuli (you say the relationship is inverse) relates to your results table depiction of that relationship (one would assume that you found a positive correlation based on the table). Please explain these apparent discrepancies.

    • Hi Professor Martinez,

      Thank you for your questions.

      In hindsight it would have made sense to labels the tables in the result table to read “High psychopathy” and “High ASD”. After the median split was performed participants above the median were identified as having ASD or Psychopathy traits, while participants below the median were not, which is why the “high” was dropped.

      Thank you for asking this question so i can clarify as I realize there was an error in inserting the results table. The hypothesis table appears to be inserted twice instead of the results table. There were no significant results found for the ASD traits. Participants with psychopathy traits saw less change in arousal over all, while participants with high empathy traits saw more change in arousal in response to positive stimuli and less change in arousal in response to negative stimuli. Sorry about this mistake

      • Hi Anna,

        Thank you for your responses, they clarify things. I have one additional question:

        (3) I’m a bit confused about your conclusion that there is evidence for a U-shaped relationship for empathy and arousal to itch. If indeed there was a U-shaped relationship, then you would predict that the correlation coefficient for the relationship between these two factors would be essentially 0 and not statistically significant. Instead, you report a negative correlation coefficient for the correlation of IRI and arousal to itch, and it nearly approaches statistical significance. This correlation suggests that those with the lowest IRI scores actually have the highest arousal to itch. Does your scatterplot of IRI scores vs. arousal to itch show clear evidence of the inverted-U? Have you considered running a regression with quadratic terms to statistically determine whether there really is a curvilinear relationship between these variables?


        Prof. Martinez

        • Hi Professor Martinez

          The high PPI (low empathy) and high empathy are both negatively correlated with change in arousal to itch. I don’t have access to my scatter plot from home, but from memory the scatter plot wasn’t a perfect U. I should have qualified the U shaped plot since we did not run a statistical test on the curvilinear relationship. Perhaps the reason for this discrepancy is that when we refer to low empathy groups we are referring to high scores on the PPI and not low scores on the IRI. As more data is collected the regression with quadratic terms would be helpful to perform if the itch arousal relationship approaches significance.

          Thanks for pointing these things out, its giving me a lot to think about for future analyses.

          • Hi Anna,

            Understood. If I’m understanding things correctly, it seems you are relying on the higher end of the IRI scale and arousal to itch relationship to conclude that those with highest empathy have the least arousal, and then relying on the higher end of the PPI scale and arousal to itch relationship to conclude that those with the lowest empathy have the least arousal to itch. But the issue I described for IRI would also apply to PPI. Your conclusion ignores the other end of the PPI scale, which according to the correlation coefficient you report suggests that those with the lowest psychopathy scores (so theoretically the highest empathy) would be expected to actually have the highest arousal to itch. What you might really have here is a weird, unexpected discrepancy between your IRI and PPI measures, leading to some unexpected relationships between each of these variables and arousal to itch. IRI and PPI should have a relatively strong, inverse relationship (if you are high on psychopathy, you should be low on empathy, and vice versa). So it seems odd that each variable on its own could have inverse relationships with any outcome variable, including arousal to itch.It would be interesting to know if the correlation between PPI and IRI was statistically significant, and if it was an inverse relationship.

  3. I found it interesting that your predictions matched your results of the levels of arousal towards yawn, laugh, itch, and fear for groups with ASD, groups with psychopathy, and groups with high empathy. I also enjoyed the use of statistics in the results section to provide evidence for your discoveries. I additionally liked how within the discussion section, you elaborated on possible reasons for the results of arousal displayed by individuals with high empathy as well as the results of arousal displayed by individuals with high levels of psychopathy. Overall, this is a great thesis poster!

  4. I found the thesis to be a fun thing to test. It made sense to me that the hypothesis matched your results, as I feel that it is a common assumption when looking at high empathy people and psychopathy individuals to have such a reaction. It is interesting to see your hypothesis and results regarding the participants with ASD; that is the case in your study that I feel where without background knowledge, there is potential for people to believe the results would be opposite for people with ASD or be high arousal for both. i personally would probably have assumed the arousal would be high for both positive and negative scenarios with ASD.
    Great poster!

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