From Perception to Social Connection: Assessing Deficits and Modulation of Empathic Processes to Study Human Social Behavior
Marsh, Abigail A.
Perceiving and responding to the emotions of other individuals is thought to motivate adaptive social behaviors and help form strong interpersonal connections. Failure or manipulation of the empathic processes that subserve emotion perception and response, according to theory, will meaningfully affect an individual’s ability to stay socially connected. The goal of this dissertation is to better understand the interplay between empathy, social behavior, and social connectedness using two frameworks. The first study investigates acquired empathy deficits following stroke to examine their relation to real-world social outcomes. Results link damage to a right-lateralized network involved in empathy and emotion recognition to reduced social activity and lower perceived social connectedness after stroke. Findings align with prior research exposing empathic deficits as a potential consequence of right hemisphere stroke, and extend a gap in knowledge related to their real-world significance. The second study approaches empathy and social connectedness using a modulatory framework focused on improving function in neurologically healthy adults. During COVID-19 social distancing, a period of intense stress and social disconnect, we examined whether social behavior or connectedness can be meaningfully enhanced by a 4-week social meditation training aimed at increasing empathy and connection. This internet-based, randomized controlled trial had surprising results that counter past work. Compared to an active control, the social meditation training was associated with worse perceived social connectedness and had no effect on real-world social behavior. Implications related to the COVID-19 pandemic are discussed. Lastly, the trial explored a predicted link between social connectedness and acute pain. Findings show that changes to perceived social connectedness after meditation were positively associated with changes to acute pain tolerance. Discussion focuses on the relevance of social functioning for health and well-being, and new questions are posed.
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From Perception to Social Connection: Assessing Deficits and Modulation of Empathic Processes to Study Human Social Behavior Matthews, Katherine (Georgetown University, 2021)Perceiving and responding to the emotions of other individuals is thought to motivate adaptive social behaviors and help form strong interpersonal connections. Failure or manipulation of the empathic processes that subserve ...