- Empathy is considered a significant motivator of prosocial behavior. Increasing evidence suggests that feelings of personal distress associated with empathy may be stronger or weaker according to the form of perspective taking that an empathizer utilizes. The aim of the present study was to further quantify the stress consequences and personal distress associated with different forms of empathetic perspective taking – affective perspective taking (APT) and cognitive perspective taking (CPT) – and examine the associated effects on helping behavior. This was accomplished through an integrated psychophysiological approach utilizing both self-report and salivary biomarkers of stress. Salivary cortisol, salivary 𝛼-amylase, and heart rate variability were used to measure stress reactivity in response to an emotionally-provoking video broadcast. We hypothesized that the APT group would demonstrate greater levels of psychological and physiological distress compared to the CPT group and control group. APT and CPT groups reported greater levels of personal and other-oriented distress than the control group. Physiological indicators of stress suggest that APT and CPT groups experienced greater stress than the control group, though the results are largely inconclusive. These preliminary findings confirm the relationship between physiological and psychological responding in this context and demonstrate that empathy likely has a measurable physiochemical basis.
Key Words: empathy, perspective taking, stress, cortisol, alpha amylase