Emotion regulation of others' positive and negative emotions is related to distinct patterns of heart rate variability and situational empathy.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


PLoS One, Volume 15, Issue 12, p.e0244427 (2020)


Adult, Autonomic Nervous System, Emotional Regulation, Empathy, Female, Galvanic Skin Response, Heart Rate, Humans, Male, Self Report, Young Adult


<p>Although emotion regulation has been proposed to be crucial for empathy, investigations on emotion regulation have been primarily limited to intrapersonal processes, leaving the interpersonal processes of self-regulation rather unexplored. Moreover, studies showed that emotion regulation and empathy are related with increased autonomic activation. How emotion regulation and empathy are related at the autonomic level, and more specifically during differently valenced social situations remains an open question. Healthy adults viewed a series of short videos illustrating a target who was expressing positive, negative, or no emotions during a social situation (Positive, Negative, or Neutral Social Scenes). Prior to each video, participants were instructed to reappraise their own emotions (Up-regulation, Down-regulation, or No-regulation). To assess autonomic activation, RR intervals (RRI), high frequency (HF) components of heart rate variability (HRV), and electrodermal activity phasic responses (EDRs) were calculated. Situational empathy was measured through a visual analogue scale. Participants rated how empathic they felt for a specific target. Up- and Down-regulation were related to an increase and a decrease in situational empathy and an increase in RRI and HF, respectively, compared to the control condition (No-regulation). This suggests increased activity of the parasympathetic branch during emotion regulation of situational empathic responses. Positive compared to Negative Social Scenes were associated with decreased situational empathy, in addition to a slightly but non-significantly increased HF. Altogether, this study demonstrates that emotion regulation may be associated with changes in situational empathy and autonomic responses, preferentially dominated by the parasympathetic branch and possibly reflecting an increase of regulatory processes. Furthermore, the current study provides evidence that empathy for different emotional valences is associated with distinct changes in situational empathy and autonomic responses.</p>

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