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J Physiol Anthropol. 2009 Jan;28(1):29-35.

Physiological and psychological responses to expressions of emotion and empathy in post-stress communication.

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  • 1Department of Pathobiology, Graduate School of Nursing, Chiba University, Chuo-ku, Chiba 260-8672, Japan. m.ono@graduate.chiba-u.jp

Abstract

The effects of communicating during and after expressing emotions and receiving empathy after exposure to stress were investigated for 18 female students (9 pairs). After mental and physical tasks, a subject spoke to a listener about the stress task. In Experiment 1, responses to speaking about negative emotions aroused by the task (the "with emotion" condition) were compared to speaking about only objective facts about the task (the control). In Experiment 2, responses to empathetic reactions from the listener (the "with empathy" condition) were compared to no reaction (the control). Electroencephalograms were recorded, and heart rate variability (HRV) was calculated from electrocardiogram data. Subjective stress was estimated by a visual analog scale. Experiment 1 demonstrated that expressing emotions activated the left temporal region (T3) in the "with emotion" condition. In Experiment 2, physiological responses depended on cognition of different elements of empathy. During communication, feeling that the listener had the same emotion decreased the subject's T3 activity and sympathetic activity balance indicated by HRV. After communication, feeling that the listener understood her emotions decreased bilateral frontal and temporal activity. On the other hand, subjective stress did not differ between conditions in both experiments. These findings indicate that the comfort of having shared a message reduced physiological activity, especially in the "with empathy" condition. Conversely, even in the "with empathy" condition, not sharing a message can result in more discomfort or stress than the control. Sharing might be associated with cognition of the degree of success of communication, which reflected in the physiological responses. In communication, therefore, expressing emotions and receiving empathy did not in themselves reduce stress, and the level of cognition of having shared a message is a key factor in reducing stress.

PMID:
19212092
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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