University Of Tasmania
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The psychophysiological correlates of empathy in couple interactions

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posted on 2023-05-27, 17:59 authored by O'Mara, John
This thesis examines the relationships between physiological linkage and empathy in dyadic couple interactions. Physiological linkage occurs when the dynamic changes in the physiology of one person are followed by equivalent changes in the physiology of another. The current research emerged from the innovative work of Levenson and Gottman (1983) who used bivariate time-series analysis techniques to examine physiological linkage in neutral and conflictual couple interactions. They found that physiological linkage was negatively correlated (r = -.31) with marital satisfaction during conflict interactions only, and predicted 60% of the variance in marital satisfaction. In a later study, Levenson and Ruef (1992) found that strangers rating the affect of a target spouse were physiologically linked for 28% to 33% of physiological variables, and that physiological linkage was significantly correlated with rating accuracy for negative affect only. Levenson and Ruef interpreted physiological linkage as representing a physiological substrate of empathy. For the current research a three stage model of empathy was developed to provide a conceptualisation of the empathic process and guide the selection of measures for empathy. To the neutral and conflict interactions used in the earlier studies a third positive interaction was added. Tum-taking, rather than naturalistic interactions, were used to aid empathic listening. It was hypothesised that, when non distressed couples listen empathically to each other: (a) physiological linkage would occur where the physiology of the listener follows the physiology of the speaker; (b) physiological linkage would be predictive of perspective-taking (i.e., empathic listening) and, (c) marital satisfaction; and (d) perspective-taking would be correlated with marital satisfaction. Results supported these hypotheses: (a) Significant physiological linkage occmTed for 38% of physiological measures during neutral discussions, 42% during happy, and 41 % during discussions of conflict. The direction of linkage was that the listener consistently followed the speaker; (b) physiological linkage predicted up to 55% of the variance in perspective taking ability; (c) and up to 51 % of the variance in marital satisfaction, and (d) perspective-taking was positively correlated with marital satisfaction for six of nine comparisons (ps < .01). The results indicated that physiological linkage occurs when spouses listen empathically and extended the findings of Levenson and Gottman (1983) to the expression of neutral and positive affect. Support was also provided for the proposed model of empathy and Levenson and Ruef's (1992) contention that physiological linkage signifies the feeling component of empathy.


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Copyright 2001 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2001.

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