The influence of empathy on episodic memory for emotional details and theory of mind

Spriggs, Matthew (2021) The influence of empathy on episodic memory for emotional details and theory of mind. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The primary goal of this research was to improve our understanding of how empathy influences other cognitive faculties, specifically episodic memory. We first put forward a working model that attempts to describe the array of processes considered fundamental to empathy and to demonstrate how they emerge from an interaction of cognitive faculties, from primitive state-matching to higher-level episodic simulation, to achieve social goals.

Four studies were then conducted. The first two developed and adapted a novel text-based paradigm in order to identify any differences in the encoding and retrieval strategies of low and high empathy individuals. Study 3 adapted this paradigm into video monologues and introduced a novel empathy measure, the Emotional Resonance Index (ERI). Study 4 introduced a second paradigm that presented participants with written scenarios to investigate how empathy may relate to theory of mind-based inferences.

In study 1 and 2, we found that, at encoding, high empathy individuals were more emotionally impacted by the content of narratives, specifically those with neutral and positive valence. At retrieval, they consistently remembered more emotional details than low empathy individuals, especially from narratives with positive valence.

In study 3, we observed that high empathy participants no longer remembered more emotional details but instead remembered less non-emotional details. All participants demonstrated a stronger emotional reaction to narratives presented in congruent emotional tone, but high empathy individuals reported experiencing stronger emotionality than low empathy individuals.

In study 4, we found that hot empathy predicted a preference for typical responses and responses of positive emotional valence. For certain scenarios, response choices varied with empathy scores and personality traits.

In the final chapter, we considered how these findings correspond to our working model and the dissociable processes it describes. Finally, we discussed the contribution these findings make to prevailing cognitive theories of empathy, before outlining some limitations of these novel paradigms and suggestions for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2023 09:48
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2023 09:48


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