DOI: 10.1101/454819Feb 24, 2019Paper

Physiological Synchrony Predicts Observational Threat Learning in Humans

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
P. PärnametsAndreas Olsson


Understanding how information about threats in the environment is shared and transmitted between individuals is crucial for explaining adaptive, survival-related behavior in humans and other animals, and for developing treatments for phobias and other anxiety disorders. Research across species has shown that observing a conspecifics, a "demonstrators", threat responses causes strong and persistent threat memories in the "observer". Such observational threat learning is hypothesized to be supported by empathic processes. Here, we examined if physiological synchrony between demonstrator and observer can serve as a biomarker of the hypothesized empathic transfer. We measured synchrony between demonstrators and observers phasic electrodermal signals during learning, which directly reflects autonomic nervous system activity. Synchrony predicted the strength of the observers later skin conductance responses to threat predicting stimuli. Dynamic coupling between an observers and a demonstrators autonomic nervous system activity may reflect empathic experience sharing processes facilitating the formation of observational threat associations.

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