Personal distress

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In psychology, personal distress is an aversive, self-focused emotional reaction (e.g., anxiety, worry, discomfort) to the apprehension or comprehension of another's emotional state or condition. This negative affective state often occurs as a result of emotional contagion when there is confusion between self and other. Unlike empathy, personal distress does not have to be congruent with the other's state, and often leads to a self-oriented, egoistic reaction to reduce it, by withdrawing from the stressor, for example, thereby decreasing the likelihood of prosocial behavior.[1] There is evidence that sympathy and personal distress are subjectively different,[2] have different somatic and physiological correlates,[3] and relate differently to prosocial behavior.[4]

Work in social neuroscience, using functional neuroimaging, shows that the perception of another individual in pain results, in the observer, in the activation of the neural network involved in the processing of firsthand experience of pain. This intimate overlap between the neural circuits responsible for our ability to perceive the pain of others and those underlying our own self-experience of pain can lead to personal distress and can possibly be detrimental to empathic concern. Personal distress may even result in a more egoistic motivation to reduce it, by withdrawing from the stressor, for example, thereby decreasing the likelihood of prosocial behavior.[5]

Link to risk and resistance[edit]

In 1987, one study [6] completed cross-sectional and longitudinal research on a community sample of over 400 adults and their children to examine the link between risk, resistance, and personal distress. Risk factors consisted of negative life events and avoidance coping strategies and, for children, parental emotional and physical distress. Resistance factors were self-confidence, an easygoing disposition, and family support. Outcome criteria were global depression and physical symptoms in adults, and psychological maladjustment and physical health problems in their children.

The survey found that persons who simultaneously experience high risk and low resistance are especially vulnerable to personal distress. The results demonstrated that the risk and resistance variables are significant predictors of concurrent and future psychological and physical distress in adults. In children, the findings demonstrated that parental dysfunction, especially maternal risk factors and family support, are significantly linked to distress. However, these findings also suggested that, in comparison to adults, children may be more resilient to past negative life events affecting their current or future levels of distress. Furthermore, it was noted that children are affected more by mothers' than fathers' functioning, which is congruent with the conventional role of mothers as primary caregivers and with children's relatively stronger maternal attachment relationships.[7]

Development[edit]

A study was conducted with a group of children as well as a separate group of adults; both groups were to watch a video. The video was of a negatively emotional news story. While they watched the video their facial expressions where recorded, as well they self reported how they felt after viewing the video. The results found that there is indeed a stark difference between sympathy and personal distress. Markers of sympathy were related to prosocial responses on the other hand facial indexes of personal distress were unrelated. For adults it was found that facial sadness and concerned attention tended to be positively related to prosocial tendencies, children on the other hand had a negative relationship between prosocial behaviour and facial personal distress. This displays how there is not only an observable difference between sympathy and personal distress. It can also be seen that there is a difference between how children and adults experience either personal distress or sympathy this is largely related to the level of development that the individual has achieved.[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tice, D.M., Bratslavsky, E., & Baumeister, R.F. (2001). Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: If you feel bad, do it! Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 53-67.
  2. ^ Batson, C. D., etal. (1987). Five studies testing two new egoistic alternatives to the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 52-77
  3. ^ Eisenberg, N., McCreath, H., & Ahn, R. (1988). Vicarious emotional responsiveness and prosocial behavior: their interrelations in young children. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14, 298-311.
  4. ^ Eisenberg, N., & Miller, P. A. (1987). The relation of empathy to prosocial and related behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 91-1 19.
  5. ^ Decety, J., & Lamm, C. (2009). Empathy versus personal distress - Recent evidence from social neuroscience. In J. Decety and W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 199-213). Cambridge: MIT press.
  6. ^ Holahan, C.J.,& Moos, R.H. (1987). Risk, resistance, and psychological distress: A longitudinal analysis with adults and children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96 (1), 3-13.
  7. ^ Sroufe, A.,& Waters, E.(1977). Attachment as an organizational construct. Child Development, 48, 1184-1199, cited in Holahan, C.J.,& Moos, R.H. (1987). Risk, resistance, and psychological distress: A longitudinal analysis with adults and children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96 (1), 3-13.
  8. ^ Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Miller, P. A., Fultz, J., Shell, R., Mathy, R. M., & Reno, R. R. (1989). Relation of sympathy and personal distress to prosocial behavior: A multimethod study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(1), 55-66. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.57.1.55 99.249.193.56

Further reading[edit]

  • Davis, M. H. (1996). Empathy: A Social-Psychological Approach. Westview.
  • Hodges, S.D., & Klein, K.J.K. (2001). Regulating the costs of empathy: the price of being human. Journal of Socio-Economics, 30, 437-452.
  • Eisenberg, N., & Strayer, J. (1987). Empathy and its Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Miller, P. A., Fultz, J., Shell, R., Mathy, R. M., & Reno, R. R. (1989). Relation of sympathy and personal distress to prosocial behavior: A multimethod study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(1), 55-66. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.57.1.55 99.249.193.56

External links[edit]