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The influence of imagination, connectivity, and social context on the assessment and measurement of empathic accuracy using photographic stimuli

Woolrych, Tracey (2014) The influence of imagination, connectivity, and social context on the assessment and measurement of empathic accuracy using photographic stimuli. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

The ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others is known as empathic accuracy, and in this thesis is referred to as Affect Recognition-Empathic Accuracy (AR-EA). This ability can facilitate pro-social behaviours while deficits may result in anti-social behaviours. Research has demonstrated that imagination, connectivity, and social context can all influence our ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others; however, there has been little research investigating how these specific factors might be enhanced, or influence AR-EA abilities when using photographic stimuli. There were two aims to this thesis. The first aim was to investigate the possibility of inserting specific empathy related elements, imagination, connectivity, and social context, into a set of photographic stimuli to assess the potential influence on AR-EA. The second aim was to develop an original set of photographic stimuli for use in this thesis, and to conduct psychometric evaluations on said photographs in order to develop a new photographic measure for the assessment and evaluation of AR-EA. The photographs consisted of both male and female models expressing six different basic emotions (happy, sad, fear, anger, surprise, disgust) at three different levels of intensity (low, medium and high intensity), plus one neutral expression. Imagination and connectivity were both facilitated through the insertion of a silhouette (blacked out full body figure, male or female) into the photographic stimuli. Social context was manipulated through the use of different social setting backgrounds in the photographs: a kitchen, a bar (as in a tavern), and a neutral background. Results demonstrated the silhouette inserted into the photographs to facilitate imagination and connectivity not only enhanced empathic processes, but also produced photographic-based measure of AR-EA that was superior in both reliability and validity to other presentation modes (full body only, and head and shoulders only stimuli). The different social settings of the photographs also impacted AR-EA abilities facilitating the accurate interpretation of some emotions, whilst inhibiting others. The overall findings of this thesis question past research methods as well as provide intriguing insights into the functioning of empathic accuracy processes which have not been previously reported. The testing and research also resulted in a new photographic measure for the assessment of AR-EA abilities, whilst the use of simple techniques to manipulate empathy-based elements within the photographs offers new opportunities for future research.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Law
Supervisor: Hall, Guy and Field, Courtney
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/28174
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