This article is part of the Research Topic The Social Dimension of Emotion Regulation

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 12 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00482

Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict

  • 1Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion,” Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 2Dahlem Institute for Neuroimaging of Emotion, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany

In the present study, we investigated the effects of empathic paraphrasing as an extrinsic emotion regulation technique in social conflict. We hypothesized that negative emotions elicited by social conflict can be regulated extrinsically in a conversation by a listener following the narrator’s perspective and verbally expressing cognitive empathy. Twenty participants were interviewed on an ongoing or recently self-experienced social conflict. The interviewer utilized 10 standardized open questions inviting participants to describe their perception of the conflict. After each of the 10 descriptions, the interviewer responded by either paraphrasing or taking notes (control condition). Valence ratings pertaining to the current emotional state were assessed during the interview along with psychophysiological and voice recordings. Participants reported feeling less negative after hearing the interviewer paraphrase what they had said. In addition, we found a lower sound intensity of participants’ voices when answering to questions following a paraphrase. At the physiological level, skin conductance response, as well as heart rate, were higher during paraphrasing than during taking notes, while blood volume pulse amplitude was lower during paraphrasing, indicating higher autonomic arousal. The results show that demonstrating cognitive empathy through paraphrasing can extrinsically regulate negative emotion on a short-term basis. Paraphrasing led to enhanced autonomic activation in recipients, while at the same time influencing emotional valence in the direction of feeling better. A possible explanation for these results is that being treated in an empathic manner may stimulate a more intense emotion processing helping to transform and resolve the conflict.

Keywords: emotion regulation, empathy, social conflict resolution, paraphrasing, client-centered-therapy

Citation: Seehausen M, Kazzer P, Bajbouj M and Prehn K (2012) Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict. Front. Psychology 3:482. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00482

Received: 24 June 2012; Accepted: 19 October 2012;
Published online: 12 November 2012.

Edited by:

Vera Shuman, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Reviewed by:

Philipp Kanske, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany
Molly Ireland, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Seehausen, Kazzer, Bajbouj and Prehn. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Maria Seehausen, Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion,” Freie Universität Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany. e-mail: maria.seehausen@fu-berlin.de

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