Thursday, November 15, 2012

Effects of Empathic Paraphrasing – Extrinsic Emotion Regulation in Social Conflict

From Frontiers in Emotion Science, this interesting study confirms what seems kind of obvious to anyone who worked with non-violent communication and been in imago therapy - when we respond to someone with empathy, in this case through paraphrasing a stressful incident the person has just related in way that let's him or her know we got it, the person feels better about the incident just related. The full paper is free for download at the link below.

Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict

  • 1Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion,” Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 2Dahlem Institute for Neuroimaging of Emotion, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany
In the present study, we investigated the effects of empathic paraphrasing as an extrinsic emotion regulation technique in social conflict. We hypothesized that negative emotions elicited by social conflict can be regulated extrinsically in a conversation by a listener following the narrator’s perspective and verbally expressing cognitive empathy. Twenty participants were interviewed on an ongoing or recently self-experienced social conflict. The interviewer utilized 10 standardized open questions inviting participants to describe their perception of the conflict. After each of the 10 descriptions, the interviewer responded by either paraphrasing or taking notes (control condition). Valence ratings pertaining to the current emotional state were assessed during the interview along with psychophysiological and voice recordings. Participants reported feeling less negative after hearing the interviewer paraphrase what they had said. In addition, we found a lower sound intensity of participants’ voices when answering to questions following a paraphrase. At the physiological level, skin conductance response, as well as heart rate, were higher during paraphrasing than during taking notes, while blood volume pulse amplitude was lower during paraphrasing, indicating higher autonomic arousal. The results show that demonstrating cognitive empathy through paraphrasing can extrinsically regulate negative emotion on a short-term basis. Paraphrasing led to enhanced autonomic activation in recipients, while at the same time influencing emotional valence in the direction of feeling better. A possible explanation for these results is that being treated in an empathic manner may stimulate a more intense emotion processing helping to transform and resolve the conflict.

Full Citation: 
Seehausen M, Kazzer P, Bajbouj M and Prehn K. (2012). Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict. Front. Psychology, 3:482. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00482
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