Between Ourselves. Automatic mimicry reactions as related to

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Between Ourselves Automatic mimicry reactions as related to empathic ability and patterns of attachment Sonnby-Borgström, Marianne
2002
Link to publication Citation for published version (APA): Sonnby-Borgström, M. (2002). Between Ourselves: Automatic mimicry reactions as related to empathic ability and patterns of attachment. Marianne Sonnby-Borgström, Östervångsvägen 20, 224 60 Lund, Sweden.
Total number of authors: 1

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Download date: 16. Jun. 2022

LUND UNIVERSITY
PO Box 117 221 00 Lund +46 46-222 00 00

BETWEEN OURSELVES
Automatic mimicry reactions as related to empathic ability and patterns of attachment
Marianne Sonnby-Borgström Department of Psychology 2002

© Marianne Sonnby-Borgström
ISBN 91-628-5185-3 PRINTED BY BLOMS I LUND TRYCKERI AB LUND, SWEDEN

Abstract
The studies included in this thesis investigated emotional communication in experimentally created face-to-face interaction situations. The hypotheses were based on the conception of a process which leads to emotional empathy, assuming that automatic mimicking tendencies are involved in an early, automatic part of the process. Subjects were categorised as high- or lowempathic according to results on the Questionnaire Measure Of Emotional Empathy (QMEE). The compared parameters were facial mimicry reactions, represented by electromyographic (EMG) activity, when subjects were exposed to pictures of angry or happy faces. Comparisons were made at different stimulus exposure times in order to elicit reactions at different levels of information processing: preattentive (from 17 ms), automatic (17-56 ms), and controlled (100-2350 ms) levels. High-empathy subjects showed mimicking reactions already at the automatic level. In contrast, the low-empathy group reacted with inverted reactions and showed higher zygomaticus activity ("smiling") when exposed to angry faces. Thus, the result supported the hypothesis that mimicry is an early, automatic element involved in emotional empathy. Since patterns of attachment have been assumed to be involved in emotion regulation, the Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ) was introduced to measure patterns of attachment and to relate this parameter to mimicry and empathy. Negative model-of-self subjects (corresponding to preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment patterns) showed a significantly stronger corrugator response (negative emotions) and reported more negative feelings than subjects with a positive model-of-self (corresponding to secure and dismissingavoidant patterns of attachment) at the controlled level, representing emotionally regulated responses. These results supported the hypothesis that subjects with a negative model-of-self would show difficulties in self-regulation of negative emotions. The dismissing-avoidant subjects displayed "normal" corrugator reactions to angry faces at the automatic level of information processing (56 ms), whereas they showed inverted zygomatic reactions (“smiling”) and decreased their corrugator response, to the angry face, at the controlled level (2350 ms), a reaction that may be may be interpreted as a repression of their preceeding negative emotional reaction. The dismissing-avoidant subjects scored significantly lower on QMEE than non-avoidant subjects, a result that may be explained as a repression of apprehensive reactions to others' negative emotional expression. Negative model-of-self subjects scored significantly higher on QMEE than positive model-of-self subjects and showed a mimicry reaction at the controlled level, which may be interpreted as a tendency for negative model-of-self subjects to be easily distressed by others showing negative emotional reactions.
Key words: Facial mimicry, emotional contagion, EMG, empathy, attachment pattern, emotion regulation

List of studies
This thesis is based upon the following papers, which will be referred to by their Roman numerals:
I. Sonnby-Borgström, M. (2002) Automatic Mimicry Reactions as Related to Differences in Emotional Empathy. Accepted for publication in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
II. Sonnby-Borgström, M. & Jönsson, P. (2002) Models-of-Self and Others as Related to Facial Muscle Reactions at Different Levels of Cognitive Control. Accepted for publication in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
III. Sonnby-Borgström, M. & Jönsson, P. (2002) Dismissing-avoidant Pattern of Attachment and Mimicry Reaction at Different Levels of Information Processing. Submitted for publication.
IV. Sonnby-Borgström, M. & Jönsson, P. (2002) Emotional Empathy as Related to Mimicry Reactions at Different Levels of Information Processing. Submitted for publication.

To Lars, Sara and Erik

Acknowledgements
I wish to express my gratitude to my supervisors, Professor Olof Rydén, Professor Jarl Risberg and Professor Ingegerd Carlsson for believing in me and encouraging me to continue my stubborn, and unpredictable project. I am also grateful to you for valuable discussions and advice during the preparation of my experiments and the writing of my thesis. Thank you, Ingegerd and Olof, for having taught me how to write texts that are understandable to others than myself. Thank you, Olof, for inspiring discussions and talks about research, mankind, personality, emotions, consciousness, politics, and last, but not least, about dogs and birds. Thank you, Jarl, for valuable discussions concerning the neuropsychological aspects of my work. I am especially grateful for your support with the phychophysiological laboratory equipment that made it possible to accomplish my experiments and for economical support that allowed me to visit interesting conferences and for being a good travel companion. I also want to thank Professor Alf Nilsson for introducing me to Silvan Tomkins’ Affect theory, which inspired me to use this theory as a theoretical base for my thesis. To be able to accomplish my studies I have needed a lot of different forms of technical support. I am especially grateful to the following persons for this: Thank you, Owe Svensson, for very valuable help and advice regarding the choice of signal analysis method of my EMG data and for helping me with comments regarding this method to a critical reviewer. I am convinced that your comments saved my first article. Thank you, Peter Jönsson, for valuable discussions during the preparation of our common experiment and for helping me with the electrical equipment and computer programs during this experiment. Thank you, Professor Ulf Dimberg, for having taught me how to use facial electrodes in EMG research and for your important research on facial expressions that has been a source of inspiration. Thank you, Jean-Chistophe Rohner, for creating a computerised version of the picture sequence, used as stimuli in my first study. Thank you, Martin Bäckström and Robert Goldsmith, for statistical advice. One prerequisite for making my experiments was that I was not completely unfamiliar with how to use computer programs. Karin Blom, Bodil Veige and Kajsa Theander in Veckobladets kvinnoredaktion familiarised me with computers. Thanks to all of you. I would also like to thank Crafoordska stiftelsen for economical support to the data equipment necessary to handle the large amount of data.
Finally, I would like to thank my husband, Lars, for love and support during my ups and downs, while working on this thesis. Thank you, Sara and Erik, for being supportive and encouraging during this process.

Contents
ABBREVIATIONS .................................................................................................................................................. 7 SAMMANFATTNING PÅ SVENSKA.......................................................................................................................... 8 SYNOPSIS ........................................................................................................................................................... 10
INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................................................... 12
THEORETICAL FRAME AND ISSUE OF THE THESIS................................................................................................ 12 AFFECTS, EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS: A THEORETICAL INTRODUCTION .............................................................. 14
What is an emotion?...................................................................................................................................... 14 Different components involved in emotions .................................................................................................. 14 Different ways of operationalising emotions................................................................................................. 14 Labelling of emotions.................................................................................................................................... 15 Different functions of emotions ..................................................................................................................... 15 Different theoretical approaches to emotion................................................................................................. 16 The present approach: Man as a bio-psycho-social being............................................................................ 20 INFORMATION PROCESSING AS HIERARCHICALLY ORGANISED ........................................................................... 21 Leventhal's and Öhman's emotional information processing theories .......................................................... 21 Microgenetic theory of information processing ............................................................................................ 22 Neural correlates of emotional hierarchical processing............................................................................... 22 The present approach: Levels of emotional information processing ............................................................ 26 MAN AS BIOLOGICALLY PREPARED FOR FACIAL COMMUNICATION .................................................................... 27 Spontaneous and symbolic communication................................................................................................... 27 Communication in authentic life situations................................................................................................... 28 Communication via facial expressions as biologically prepared.................................................................. 28 Correspondence between spontaneous facial expressions and emotions...................................................... 30 Emotional contagion ..................................................................................................................................... 30 Correlation mechanisms involved between spontaneous mimicry reactions and emotional contagion........ 32 Facial reactions at controlled levels of processing....................................................................................... 32 Neural correlates of facial processing .......................................................................................................... 34 The present approach to facial communication ............................................................................................ 36 MAN AS BIOLOGICALLY PREPARED FOR ATTACHMENT....................................................................................... 38 What is attachment theory?........................................................................................................................... 38 Early emotional communication and the formation of attachment ............................................................... 39 Different patterns of attachment in adulthood .............................................................................................. 40 Internal working models and emotions ......................................................................................................... 42 Internal working models and social cognition .............................................................................................. 42 Internal working models at different levels of consciousness ....................................................................... 43 Neural and neurobiological aspects on attachment...................................................................................... 44 The present approach: Attachment and emotion regulation ......................................................................... 48 FACIAL MIMICRY REACTIONS AS RELATED TO EMPATHIC ABILITY AND ATTACHMENT PATTERN ........................ 49 What is empathy? .......................................................................................................................................... 49 Empathy as biologically prepared ................................................................................................................ 50 Empathic ability and facial mimicry ............................................................................................................. 50 Empathic ability and personality .................................................................................................................. 51 The present approach to mimicry, empathy and attachment......................................................................... 53
SUMMARY AND RESULTS OF STUDIES I-IV .....................................................................................55
STUDY I ............................................................................................................................................................. 55 Aims............................................................................................................................................................... 55 Method .......................................................................................................................................................... 55 Results and conclusions ................................................................................................................................ 59
STUDIES II, III, AND IV...................................................................................................................................... 61 Aims of study II.............................................................................................................................................. 61 Aims of study III ............................................................................................................................................ 62 Aims of study IV ............................................................................................................................................ 62 Method .......................................................................................................................................................... 63 Results and conclusions ................................................................................................................................ 65

DISCUSSION ......................................................................................................................................... 69
MIMICRY AND EMOTIONAL EMPATHY AT THE AUTOMATIC LEVEL ..................................................................... 70 INVERTED ZYGOMATIC REACTIONS FOR LOW-EMPATHY SUBJECTS .................................................................... 71 ATTACHMENT, EMOTION REGULATION AND EMPATHY ...................................................................................... 73 A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE.................................................................................................................................... 75 TONIC AFFECTIVE STATE AND MODEL-OF-SELF .................................................................................................. 77 LIMITATIONS OF THE PRESENT STUDIES ............................................................................................................. 78
Negative feelings and corrugator reactions .................................................................................................. 78 Mechanisms underlying the correlation between mimicry and emotional contagion ................................... 79 Sampling rate in Experiment I ...................................................................................................................... 79 Preattentive level........................................................................................................................................... 79 Emotional base level ..................................................................................................................................... 80 QMEE - a measure of negative emotional contagion?.................................................................................. 80 Choice of facial stimuli ................................................................................................................................. 80 Number of subjects ........................................................................................................................................ 81
SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH .......................................................................................81
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS.........................................................................................................82
REFERENCES....................................................................................................................................... 85

Abbreviations

BAS BIS EMG DET ms µV QMEE RSQ STAI –T

Behavioural activation system Behavioural inhibition system Electromyography Differential Emotions Theory milliseconds microvolt Questionnaire Measure Of Emotional Empathy Relationship Scales Questionnaire State and Trait Anxiety Inventory (trait-anxiety)

7
EmpathyMimicry ReactionsLevelsAttachmentReactions