Empathic Effects of Auditory Heartbeats: A Neurophysiological Investigation
Winters, Raymond Michael
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I hypothesized that hearing the heartbeat of another person would affect listeners’ empathic state, and designed an experiment to measure changes in behavior and cardiac neurophysiology. In my experiment, participants (N = 27) completed modified versions of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET) in different auditory heartbeat conditions (slow, fast, silence, audio-only). For each trial, participants completed two measures of empathic state: cognitive (“What is this person feeling?”) and affective (“How well could you feel what they were feeling?”). From my results, I found that the presence of auditory heartbeats i) changed cognitive empathy and ii) increased affective empathy, and these responses depended on the heartbeat tempo. I also analyzed two markers of cardiac neurophysiology: i) Heart Rate (HR) and ii) the Heartbeat-Evoked Potential (HEP). I found that the auditory heartbeat decreased listeners’ HR, and there were additional effects due to tempo and affective empathy. Finally, a frontal component of the HEP was more negative in the time-range of 350-500ms, which I attribute to a decrease in cardiac attention (i.e. “interoception”) when listening empathically to the heartbeat of others.