Measuring Emotional and Cognitive Empathy Using Dynamic, Naturalistic, and Spontaneous Emotion Displays

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Abstract

Most measures of nonverbal receiving ability use posed expressions as stimuli. As empathy measures, such stimuli lack ecological validity, as the participant is not actually experiencing emotion. An alternative approach uses natural and dynamic displays of spontaneous expressions. The Communication of Affect Receiving Ability Test (CARAT) uses as stimuli spontaneous facial expressions and gestures filmed by an unobtrusive camera of solitary participants responding to emotional images. This article reports the development and initial validation of the CARAT–Spontaneous, Posed, Regulated (CARAT-SPR), which measures both abilities to detect emotion from spontaneous displays (emotion communication accuracy) and to differentiate spontaneous, posed, and regulated displays (expression categorization ability). Although spontaneous displays are natural responses to emotional images, posed displays involve asking the sender to display “as if” responding to a particular sort of image when no image is in fact present (simulation), while Regulated displays involve asking the sender to display “as if” responding to a particular sort of image when an image of opposite valence is in fact present (masking). Expression categorization ability involves judging deception—simulation and masking—and conceptually involves a kind of perspective-taking or cognitive empathy. Emotion communication using spontaneous clips achieved a high level of accuracy and was strongly correlated with ratings of sender expressivity. Expression categorization ability was not significantly correlated with expressivity ratings and was modestly negatively correlated with emotion communication accuracy. In a brief version of the CARAT-SPR, women showed evidence of greater emotion signal detection, whereas men reported greater confidence in expression categorization.

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