ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (8): 1103-1111.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01103

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The Enhancement of Self-orientation on Counterempathy

DENG Lin;LUO Pinchao;WANG Junfang;FANG Juncong;ZHENG Xiaochun;LI Yue;ZHENG Xifu   

  1. Center for Studies of Psychological Application, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Received:2013-04-22 Published:2014-08-25 Online:2014-08-25
  • Contact: ZHENG Xifu


The biological predisposition to resonate emotionally with another person is regarded as a critical aspect of social interaction. However, the emotional responses to others are often discordant with the object’s (target’s) emotional experience. The discrepant emotional responses are called “counterempathy”. Based on the research of the two-stage process of emotion sharing proposed by Decety, and “self-oriented” and “other- orientated” emotional responses proposed by Goubet, we built the counterempathic emotion sharing process model under a competitive environment. Here we propose that in the counterempathic emotional sharing process, the individuals tend to generate stronger “self- oriented” emotional response compared to the "other-oriented" emotional response. The experiment was designed to test the enhancement effect of self- orientation on counterempathy by manipulating the orientation (self vs. other-orientation) and competitor’s facial expressions (frown vs. smile). Participants (10 men; 19 women) were convinced that they were playing a card game with another player seated in the adjoining room. They were requested to make judgment of the participants’ own win/lose and generate “self- oriented” emotional response through the competitor’s facial expressions (smile/frown) presented on the computer screen, similarly, to make judgment of the competitor’s win/lose and generate “other-oriented” emotional response. Reaction time, accuracy were collected during the tasks. To assess the manipulating effect of orientation, participants were required to complete emotional self-assessment scale at the end of each manipulating phase; and we analyzed the results using repeated-measures analyses of variance (ANOVAs) with Orientation (self vs. other- orientation) and Facial Expressions (frown vs. smile) as within-subjects variables. We observed a clear enhancement effect of self-orientation on counterempathy. Participants responded with an asymmetric emotion towards the competitor automatically both in the “self-oriented” and “other-oriented” condition. Participants had a higher accuracy and showed stronger asymmetric valence ratings to the competitor in the “self-oriented” condition compared to “other-oriented” condition; besides, they responded slower and showed more negative valence ratings to the competitor's winning in the “self-oriented” condition. The results of the study support the enhancement effect of self-orientation on counterempathy. The results indicate that individuals could respond with asymmetric emotion towards their competitors automatically not only in the “self-oriented” condition, but also in the “other- oriented” condition, suggesting that the individuals tend to generate stronger “self- oriented” emotional response, while Decety only mentioned the “other-oriented ”emotional response which induces empathic concern in the conscious emotional sharing process. Moreover, “self-oriented” condition strengthens individuals’ asymmetric emotional response compare to “other-oriented” condition, especially for the competitor's winning.

Key words: competitive situation, self-orientation, empathic concern, counterempathic emotion sharing process