Eyes on you: Ensuring empathic accuracy or signalling empathy?

Mirjam C M Wever*, Lisanne A E M van Houtum, Loes H C Janssen, Iris M Spruit, Marieke S Tollenaar, Marije Aan Het Rot, Bernet M Elzinga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The eye region is thought to play an important role in the ability to accurately infer others' feelings, or empathic accuracy (EA), which is an important skill for social interaction. However, most past studies used static pictures, including only visual information, and knowledge about the contribution of the eye region to EA when visual information is presented together with verbal content is lacking. We therefore examined whether eye gazing contributes to EA during videos of emotional autobiographical stories including both visual and verbal content. One hundred seven perceivers watched videos of targets talking about positive and negative life events and continuously rated the targets' feelings during the videos. Simultaneously, perceivers' eyes were tracked. After each video, perceivers reported on their feelings and the extent to which they empathized with and took the perspective of the targets. In contrast to studies using static pictures, we found that gazing to the eyes of targets during the videos did not significantly contribute to EA. At the same time, results on the association between the amount of gaze towards the eye region of targets and perceivers' state and trait empathy ratings suggest that eye gazing might signal empathy and social engagement to others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)743-752
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date13-Jun-2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2022

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