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Positive and Negative Empathy: Two Pathways to Enhanced Social Connection

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posted on 27.11.2018, 00:00 by Zhenting Ian Kwok
Our capacity for empathy is perhaps one of the qualities that characterizes our humanity. Yet little is known about the specific mechanisms by which it fosters an uncanny sense of closeness among individuals. In the present study, our aim was to elucidate the relationship between the experience of positive and negative empathy – and feelings of social connection. We examined whether a perspective-taking induction would enhance an empathizer’s feelings of social connection to a target, and more broadly, connection to others. We recruited 274 participants, who were randomly assigned to one of four conditions in a 2 (Event: positive, negative event) x 2 (Empathy: high, low) between-subjects factorial design. During the experiment, participants were instructed to read a letter from a previous (bogus) participant describing either a positive or negative event. Participants in the high empathy condition were asked to take the letter writer’s perspective. In contrast, they were asked to remain objective in the low empathy condition. Participants then rated their empathy and feelings of connection to the target, as well as responding to questions about their general sense of social connection. Overall, we found that when subjects empathized with the target’s positive or negative event, they felt more connected to the target. However, they did not feel more connected in general.



Morelli-Vitousek, Sylvia


Morelli-Vitousek, Sylvia



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Committee Member

Mermelstein, Robin J Rowen, Jenna

Submitted date

August 2018

Issue date


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