*Pupil size in empathy

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pupil size comments

I just finished watching “I Am Legend,” and it struck me that as alone as Will Smith was in that movie, I am always that alone.  Those of us whose brains do not process the recognition of emotional communication in the normal way are sealed off from being human and will never truly know what it would be like to join as a member of our species.

It is one thing for researchers to stack and pile up the numbers, but they can never describe this from the inside.

I can be around people in the body, be with their bodies, but I always alone.  Maybe everyone always is alone, but there is something so special and unique about being able to communicate with one another that we as humans can forget how alone we really are.

I spent thousands and thousands of hours alone as a child with the monster lurking, never far away.  She controlled all access to me, except at school, but the time I was there was like a frozen time; already I was so alone everywhere, but nobody knew it.

I have spent most of my adult life not knowing how alone I am, too.  It is as if the pretend walls of contact have tipped over like dominoes and fallen away, and it is clear in all directions around me that I am alone.  Everything that has to do with people is in another worl, like the Mexican party music I can hear tonight from the other side of the wall.  I am not there.  That is not my place.  Another country.  And me, a species of one.

Our brains were created in that void and for that void, as if there never would be another human so there was no way to develop the brain one needs to be with others.  My brain had no way to know that this isolation would ever end.  The brain can’t just build itself for the hopeful chance that someday it would be able to connect to someone else.  That’s not how it works……

If a brain is built in a void of violence, that IS all it will ever know – at least intimately, on a feeling level.  There’s no magic to this brain building process.  What you get is what you get, like a strange deviant prize out of a Cracker Jack box.  There’s no turning it in for a new one, no trading.

Interesting, isn’t that an oxymoron, “void of violence?”

I guess I have to physically be this alone right now so that I can know what I know.  A tiny ship set out to sea, nobody visible in sight all the way out to the circle of horizon.


There is no magic wand.  Magic thinking is not going to change anything.  The reality of our condition is created in our bodies.  Our nervous system developed without the proper contact with another (or other) humans.  The brain is a part of the nervous system.

Because our nervous system including our ANS and brain were built this way, and because nothing can change it, we will always be alone even when we are with others.  No matter how “healthy” a mate I might have, I can never feel that connection.  So maybe that’s why I say, “Why bother?  It doesn’t matter who I try to be in relationship with, it really won’t make any difference in the end, or even in the middle.”

This gives a perpetual edge to everything I do.  It is present when I am alone and when I am in the presence of another.  My brain cannot connect to another, like a cord with the plug permanently severed, cut off.  This makes being with others a distraction and a disturbance of what is normal for us – being alone.  That is our normal state.

Do not believe that this being alone is necessarily a pleasant experience.  It creates a sense of unreality of the world, as if it is a dream, and reality of being alone is like being in a prison, the prison of life.  We are imprisoned, alone, in our bodies and have been since the moment of our birth.  The construction and operation of our brains reflect this reality.

There is no trust built into our brains.  If anyone ever shows us affection, we will not be able to truly recognize and experience, we will not trust this, either.  The part of our brains that was supposed to evolve to tell us who to trust and who not to trust, did not develop.  People around us, who do have their communication equipment relatively intact, must be able to sense this about us, that we have some debilitation in regard to being able to communicate fluently with them.  They must sense that we cannot “hear” them, and they must sense that they cannot get through to us.  I don’t think this endears us to them.  It can lead to such a subtle (sometimes it’s obvious) form of shunning that nobody can even see it without sophisticated camera equipment.  It is about the kind of nearly instantaneous signal transmission patterns that he identifies as occurring between infants and mothers.

I think it can lead to children being picked on without anyone knowing why.  It can leave us being rejected and abandoned, and we don’t know why.  We are like our own species, but nobody tells us the facts.  It’s a part of our suffering, and it’s time we figured it out.  It’s no different than the lesion primates in the compounds ….find reference


Saturday, July 19, 2008

It seems logical to figure that the way primates in the compound found each other by brain damage was through an alteration in the signals that they could emit and receive so that they could match themselves and one another up into groups according to these parameters (perhaps including pheromones).  We have to realize that the most basic signals are implicit and involuntary.  They are automatic, and utilize the autonomic branch of the nervous system.  They are not under conscious control.  A primate is not naturally going to use any other kind unless it were to suit a particular individual purpose.  Nobody is telling them to do otherwise, than to use what comes automatically and naturally.

Humans also signal at all kinds of far more complicated levels that are at the foundation of how we see one another and hence tend to group together – in addition to our spoken languages and our languages of gestures (somewhere I need to put the deaf info on language development).  We use hair styles and jewelry, body art, gestures, clothing, colors, the cars we drive, houses we live in.  Advertising even lets us know that the kinds of tools and gadgets we use have something to do with what group we belong to and reflect who we are.

(somewhere I need to put in info about brain regions that respond to people vs tools vs objects vs the natural world)


It is hard for me to understand the lexicon of these articles.  I can read the words, but they mean nothing until I break them apart and group them back together into “power phrases” that have a meaning to me, that connect and resonate for me.


Are we all about what we comprehend and what we respond to?  Do we realize that these things are determined functionally for us to a large extent before we are able to say our first word or take our first step?


Yes, there are individual differences regarding empathy and emotions, our ability to send them out, our ability to receive them.  But where does this come from?


When a mother can’t respond to her infant, the infant’s brain notices and forms itself in response – not only to what is present, but also to what is missing and absent.  But other people in our lives can’t notice on this specific a level, because we all respond implicitly to the implicit signals of others.  It happens automatically for both sender and receiver.

There are both voluntary, explicit responses and signals, and those that are not – being involuntary, explicit and automatic.++

The 3 subjects Harrison eliminated from his analysis because he was measuring high empathy related to sensitivity to pupil size.  Maybe I can write them and ask them why they eliminated these people because they had a negative score on the BEES.  It makes no sense to me.

Researchers design their studies specifically to measure what they want to measure.  It would most helpful to the real people out in the field if they would administer a valid attachment scale right before they did the debriefing and then analyzed those scores along with their other scores.  We need all the information we can get about the correlation between empathy and attachment.



I am finding myself naturally flowing in my thoughts in the direction of Theory of Mind (ToM) in relation to empathy.  How can others who have the capacity to have a ToM even begin to have one about those of us who do not have this ability?

Yes it does keep us guessing at what normal is, but so far we are all barking up the wrong tree.  Our proverbial raccoon is buried deep inside the structure and operation of our brain.  Mine is not the same brain as a normal person’s.  Learning about ToM is not the same thing as having one or being able to use it – though we desperately try.  The human race has evolved to the point where the brain is supposed to have this capacity, but there are very specific things that have to happen as the early brain is being formed in order for this ability to become a functional part of the anatomy of a brain.  We cannot take this for granted.  And what we are robbing people of when there is neglect and abuse leading to alterations of the structure and function of the brain so that ToM is not possible, is their birthright as members of their current species.  Sure, we are still human, but we are a different kind of human.

Guessing at what normal is, as the codependency and adult child authors suggest, is a clear indication that we have a problem that can never truly be fixed.  If we ever have to guess, then we are not normal and never will be, though we can train ourselves like Olympic athletes to APPEAR to be normal.  We do not have normal brains.  This is about the haves and the have nots – being truly normal is only possible if the brain is built right through adequate interactions in the beginning of life.  Otherwise we are thrown out of the loop as certainly and surely as Harrison threw out the 3 subjects who measured negatively on the BEES scale.

Nobody truly wants to know what we are all about because ours is a terrifying reality to consider.  It is no doubt connected to a primitive, archaic and ancient knowledge that if you can’t keep up with the human race, you will not survive.  And any healthy person’s effort to protect, preserve or defend the lost causes is a depletion of precious resources the race cannot allow to dissipate uselessly.  We are the runts of the litter of human beings through no fault of our own.  Like I mentioned earlier, we are shunned and rejected from the litter without anybody actually acknowledging that it is happening.

The only way to have a completely normal brain is to have a completely secure attachment history.  Any variation from that creates a brain that is linearily attached through some degree of damage.

Life takes far more energy for us to live than normal people will ever be able to imagine, but let me give you a pathetic analogy to assist you in whatever efforts in your ToM that you might be willing to expend in our direction.  If you imagine going to the grocery store and filling up your cart with groceries.  Only once you have paid your money and you are leaving the store, you are told that you can’t take the cart outside and you cannot carry your groceries out in bags, either.  You have to carry each item individually, or if you are really fortunate, perhaps they will let you take out on each trip as many as you can carry in your arms at one time.  But you also had to park far away from the door.  In fact, you are across the busy highway and you cannot move your car any closer.  You also cannot ask for help.  Imagine a similar kind of scene if you are going to replace the motor on your car and can only find and use one tool at a time, or if you have to set a dinner table for twelve and can only carry one item at a time to the table.  Any such analogy lets you know, or begin to think about how efficient a modern human brain is supposed to be, most particularly in its ability to interact with the environment and with others of its species on a moment-to-moment basis.  Damage of any kind decreases efficiency, and those of us who were severely abused and neglected from birth have a long way – that we cannot go – to never catch up with those of you who had your basic needs adequately met as your brain developed.


We can actually have an effective ToM only about those who are like ourselves anyway, and we implicitly know who those people are as surely as the compound monkeys found one another and grouped together.  If we have an isolation-built trauma brain, we are then destined and doomed to be absolutely alone.  Logically, anybody like ourselves that we might encounter  has one of these same brains, and they, too, are doomed to be alone.  So nobody matches us, just as it was in the beginning when nobody was there to match us so that our brain could form to include matching patterns and abilities.

We can try to learn how this whole thing operates for others, but many never make the effort.  They don’t have a clue that there’s even an effort to be made.  There are degrees on this continuum, this spectrum, in this range from the not attached at all to the securely attached.  How do we tell where we fall on this line?


I spent a decade faithfully attending 12th step meetings and remember many times when others jumped down my throat if I dared to suggest that I was different from other people.  Who do you think you are to be different from anyone else?  These rooms are full of people who think they are special, and look where being special got them.”  In effect, what these people are saying is that their ToM is the only right one, and if you don’t accept it for your own, then leave.  Go be miserable elsewhere.  And if you stay and are still miserable, then it is your own fault.  You aren’t working your “program” hard enough.  You aren’t humble enough, willing enough, to “do what it takes” to be exactly like them.  Being sober is a side effect.

I am here to tell you clearly and unequivocally that some of us ARE not normal, we are different, and there’s no amount of magical thinking or shaming the situation into something else.

We can come to the meetings, attend therapy, work as hard as we want, but we will not ever have a normal brain.  We will KNOW this.  We cannot be a part of the group if we want to.  We aren’t even a part of the modern human race.  We know this implicitly, they know this implicitly.  Let’s make it explicit.  Let’s make this information known and obvious and conscious.  We can’t work with the beast if we don’t name it for what it is.  We have to know all about it.  We have to know what it is, what it does, where it came from, what its origins are, what its DNA is, and most importantly, how to live the best life we can with the beast built into our brain.

We can’t ferret it out.  We can’t amputate or cut it out.  We can’t wish it out or exorcise it out.  We will NEVER make it go away as long as we are in this physical body because it is an unalterable part OF our body, and therefore a part of who we are.  Talk about denial!  Denial of any kind, in my way of thinking, is tied to the immaturity of childhood magical thinking, a stage of thought manufacture that we are all supposed to grow out of.  And yet it is there around us in our culture as surely as we are surrounded by the air we breath.  Name it folks. Name it.


From that bottom place of being absolutely alone there is no place to go but up.  That’s why I say this book is written from the bottom up.  Those of you who are not down here at or near the bottom with us will NEVER (fortunately for you) ever get there, but neither can you include us in your ToM as hard as you try.  In the same way, we cannot include ANYBODY in ours.  When we say we feel like aliens here on earth, we mean it.  If you wish to know anything about us, seeing how you don’t know it from your inside out, you best listen to us and let us tell you.  It will help us to begin to search for ways to connect to and in a world that has excluded us from the moment of our birth.


Name it.


Maybe those of us with this alone brain can at least find a way to get off of this dead center of terror at being so alone.  Unless we are so far down there where psychopaths are that they don’t even have a startle response.  At least I have that, though it is usually hyper active, not hypo-inactive like theirs is.  I at least had stimulation when I was an infant in between the extreme isolation.  That is why abuse is better than neglect, at least the nervous system is receiving some kind of stimulation!

I would never say I am flat lined like that.  (Is their condition related to some form of dissociation, where even the center of their nervous system is dissociated from itself?)

So what if I explore this alone, and find that I am nearer to the void where creation started than normal?  I function better when I am alone because I cannot tolerate all the stimulation out there in the world of people and action.  It is a very common aspect of PTSD that we isolate more and more as our systems become hyper sensitive to arousals we cannot control, to stimulation that overwhelms us.  We create a life of sensory deprivation so that what is supposed to be done on the inside – modulation and regulation of arousal and affect – is accomplished externally.  Being alone and isolated is like some form of an emotional dialysis machine.  Our lives depend on being alone because that is what our nervous systems, including our brain, was made in and by and for.  Alone is our natural state.


I didn’t know this for years.  All the years I was out in the world, busy, being married, a part of an extended family, raising my children, going to school, holding this job or that, in this circle of friends or that one, attending this therapy or that one, going to this support group or that one – I didn’t know that I was basically jumping off into space attached to a bungee cord that stretched with the energy I put into this or that.  I didn’t know that eventually all motion would cease and desist, and that in the end I would find myself back where I have always been, in spite of my distractions and illusions along the way.  I find myself alone.  I see that has always been my natural state because that is what built me. Isolation, along with interim bouts of insane abuse that lasted for 18 years.  Anything BUT being alone has been some stretch of an elastic cord that was some kind of distorted extension out from my natural state.  For that reason, and because it’s built into the pattern of being alive, nothing could last.  And it didn’t.  False start after false start, and nothing has changed.  Nothing.  We will always return to our set point – where our homestatic equilibrium is set?  That’s our home court, what feels like home to us.  I’m not sure it can be changed.

This is the place that calls us home, as if we are extensions of one another, as if we are the echo of one another’s spoken voice. No matter what horrible and horrendous things happened to me that made me this way physiologically, the fact is that what is home to me and what is my home is still mine – and everyone has one.  It’s just that at my home there’s nobody else here, and yes, this is overwhelmingly painful at times.  Only by accepting its reality and by accepting that it must be good can I find peace at this place and with myself and with my particular reality.  Whining about it, trying to change it, denying it, running from it will not change reality.

And for me the hardest thing is the reality that the love of my life does not want to be here with me.  But if I have to be alone, that’s the Catch 22.  My reality prohibits anyone from being in my life that will share it with me.  I was most fortunate to have children under the age of 18 with me for 35 years.  But that is over.  They are no longer children, and having them here as adults wouldn’t be the same thing, anyway.

But Ernie  could call me.  He doesn’t.  But we’ll get to that later.


Perhaps I can refer to a “void of violence” because of the extreme isolation that happened for me in between the horrendous episodes of violence.  In between, I think, is where the dissociation grew so that it was a more real state to me than anything else.  The dissociation encompassed the aloneness, but not the violence.  The violence was something else, something that came at me from birth from outside of me.  Both the dissociation and the aloneness are on the inside.

Because of the main environment I “grew down into” as Hillman would say, was the Alaskan wilderness, plants, stone, water, wind, birds, mountains, etc were included within my defining boundaries of self.  This is not strange, other cultures have donw this since the world began.  But the modern capacity of the brain is to be able to reflect from a self point of view not only about relationships with the species, but with the culture and entire cosmos of which a self is a living part – like the Chinese experiments on the hen’s eggs.

Who is communicating with whom, who is doing the listening, and who is communicating back?

I think I am more attached to and feel more connected to plants than I do humans….plants are quiet, if not silent.  They live in peaceful connection to and in cooperation with the entire world around them.  Plants are essential.  We cannot live without plants.  We would have no oxygen to breath without plants.  I think I feel that plants are an extension of me, of myself.  (We are a part of this whole living organism by default, plants certainly being a part of it.)



Processing of Observed Pupil size modulates perception of sadness and predicts empathy

Neil a Harrison, c. ellie Wilson, hugo d. critchley

Emotion, 2007, vol 7, no. 4, 724-729


Communication of affective and motivational signals between individuals guides adaptive social behavior” Harrison et al, 2007, 724

It guides it from birth.  Infant’s attempt to meet their needs by interacting with their caregivers to the best of their capabilities from birth – even if that first communication is only to be a cry.  Nature has carved a niche in motherly biological reactions throughout evolution so that their signal for assistance is not met with disregard.

research in affective neuroscience

salient:  prominent, conspicuous, notable significance (comes from leap), leaping or springing out, projecting beyond a line, surface, or level, promontory, (related to sally, as sally forth)

an interesting word to use in relation to visionary signals

so that the most prominent of visual signals (?) are represented by the “visual cues expressed on our faces”

we have “psychological and neural mechanisms that support the processing of emotional facial expressions” – what do they mean by psychological mechanisms that support the processing of emotional facial expressions?  — I understand neural mechanisms that support this process, but the authors are giving no clue on what they mean by “psychological” processes.  The psychological ones cannot supercede the neural mechanisms, but must rely on them and perhaps rest on them.  I am getting his references on this, Adolf 2002 and Smith 2005

On the neural mechanisms:  …. “implicate discrete, partially overlapping, neural substrates for processing facial emotional signals observed in others”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

“explicit facial expressions generated through the (voluntary or automatic) action of the facial musculature….” Harrison et al, 2007, 724

just as the facial expressions are voluntary or automatic, so are the perceptions of them

set of core motor expressions that have the same affective meaning and are “fundamental” across cultures and societies……………….paraphrasing Harrison et al, 2007, 724

which of these do they consider core?








there are “autonomic responses” that “also contribute to affective communication, where information conveyed or betrayed by facial autonomic changes may indicate specific emotional states…..Many autonomic facial signals are identifiable across species and have evolutionary origins in homeostatic control mechanisms (Darwin, 1872).  [ The expression of the emotions in man and animals, London, Murray]  Harrison et al, 2007, 724


superior temporal sulcus

automatic signals

“nonmuscular aspects of facial expression”

“influence the perception of another’s emotional state”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

“Emotional arousal, regardless of valence” Harrison et al, 2007, 724

[good or bad attributions/observations]

observed pupil size, is “an exclusively autonomic facial physiological signal”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

“influences the perceived intensity and valence of expression of sadness (Harrison, 2006)”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

Harrison, N.A., Singer, T., Rotshtein, P., Dolan, RlJl, Critchley, H.D. (2006).  Pupillary contagion:  Central mechanisms engaged in sadness processing.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1, 5-17

I probably should get this one, not sure yet

“We also demonstrated that this interaction between pupil size and (facial muscular) expression induces corresponding “contagious” pupil response in the viewer.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

note:  as in other article, this is not the mirror neuron system if this is empathy, need to compare brain regions specified in each article

“…we showed these effects to be associated with neural activity changes in regions that process salient social cues, including amygdala and superior temporal sulcus.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 724

they found that pupil size  only influenced specifically the emotion perception of sadness

Harrison et al, 2007, 724

  1. “…pupil size was not observed to modulate ratings of the perceived intensity and valence of neutral, happy, or angry facial expressions.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 725   They are not saying in this sentence anything about the pure recognition of the existence of sadness or any other of the emotions, just mentioning intensity and valence/value

“Expression, perception, communication and even contagion of emotional signals contribute to adaptive social behavior and empathic understanding of others’ emotional states (De Vignemont, in press).”  Harrison et al, 2007, 725

empathic understanding – expression, perception, communication, contagion of emotional signals

adaptive social behavior – this must include mothering!

“…in clinical disorders of empathy, including autism and psychopathy, deficits in discriminatory identification of facial expressions may be subtle (Dolan & Fullman, 2006; Grossman, Klin, Carter, & Vokmar, 2000), indicating a need for more objective, perhaps nonlinguistic, indices of empathy.  Thus, individuals who score highly on personality measures of emotional empathy are more sensitive to subliminally presented emotional face stimuli (Martin, Berry, Dobranski, & Horne, 1996) and show enhanced mimicry and contagion of emotional facial (muscular expressions (Sonnby-Borgstrom, 2002).  No study to date has examined whether personality measures of empathy also correlate with sensitivity to facial autonomic signals, yet our previous study demonstrated a specific mirroring of pupil size in the context of perceived sadness.”   Harrison et al, 2007, 725

I wish they would include some kind of attachment measurement in their studies.  I would certainly think that those who are more sensitive might rank higher as securely attached which would mean that their limbic emotional structures have been more perfectly formed.








“…clinical need for an objective index of emotional empathy, we examine the relationship between the affective sensitivity to pupil size and individual differences in social emotional behavior, which we measured using the Mehbrabian Balanced Emotional Empathy Score (BEES; Mehrabian, & Epstein, 1972).”  Harrison et al, 2007, 725

18 female, 15 male, screened for neurological or psychiatric illnesses

color digital photographs of faces







valence (good or bad)

attractiveness  Harrison et al, 2007, 725

“We also tested how interindividual differences in emotional sensitivity to pupil size (in the context of sadness) related to scores on a rating scale of emotional empathy.  Subjects who scored negatively on the BEES were excluded from this analysis (3 subjects).´ Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“…whether high empathy was associated with a sensitivity to an increase or decrease in pupil size was explored.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726  [31 subjects from earlier study, Harrison et al., 2006]


“The size of pupils incidentally perceive on the face stimuli size modulated the ratings of emotional facial expression….across all four emotional expressions and three pupil sizes for ratings of emotional intensity showed a significant main effect of pupil size…with faces with small pupils rated as more intense.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Notably, there was also a significant interaction between pupil size and emotional (facial muscular) expression, driven by effects of pupil size in the context of sad facial expression….Subjects rated facial expressions of sadness with small pupils as significantly more intense…so that decreasing pupil size linearly modulated ratings of perceived intensity….Observed pupil size did not affect intensity ratings for expressions of fear…or surprise….However both large…and small…pupil areas were rated as significantly more intense than midsized pupils in expression of disgust….”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“When judging the emotional valence of facial expressions, there was no significant main effect of pupil size.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“There was a trend in the interaction between pupil size and emotional expression…again driven by effects of pupil size on sadness ratings.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Analysis of the effects of observed pupil size on ratings of specific emotional expressions confirmed our previous findings that sad face stimuli with small…pupils are also rated as significantly more negative…than sad face stimuli with large…pupils.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Observed pupil size in facial expressions of fear, surprise, and disgust had no effect on valence ratings….It is noteworthy that, at debriefing, subjects reported a lack of awareness of differences in pupil size across the stimuli when explicitly questioned.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726  [so this was an implicit reaction]

correlation with empathy scores

“Subjects who were more sensitive to changes in pupil size in the context of sadness were rated as having significantly higher empathy scores on ratings of intensity of emotional expression…valency ratings…and a composite score combining both ratings.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“….significant predictive relationship between scores on the BEES and sensitivity to a reduction in pupil size….”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726


“This study confirmed a salient influence of pupil size on the processing of sad expressions and showed that individual differences in the magnitude of this effect reflect differences in empathy score.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“These data complement an earlier investigation describing a selective effect of pupil size on sadness perception that did not occur when viewing happy, angry, or neutral facial expressions [in Harrison 2006 earlier investigation]….The present study extends these observations to all “basic” emotional facial expressions by examining the influence of pupil on perception of fear, disgust, and surprise.  The further finding that emotional sensitivity to pupil size in the context of sadness predicts an individual’s empathy score is noteworthy.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“In an earlier study, we showed an automatic unconscious mirroring of pupil size in the context of sad expressions, present even when attention was directed at nonemotional aspects of faces, where the observer’s pupil constricts more when viewing small pupils on a sad face than when viewing larger pupils (no such mimicry of pupil size accompanies perception of happy, angry, or neutral faces; Harrison et al, 2006).  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Together, these observations reinforce the notion that effective communication of emotional feelings engages visceral autonomic reactions underlying feeling states.  [I don’t know how they can generalize past just sad emotional feelings based on these studies – the other feelings do not generate this effect]’”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Speculatively, these automatic responses provide a potential basis for the development of objective (and perhaps nonlinguistic) screening tools for disorders of emotional empathy, such as autism and psychopathy.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

attachment disorders, other personality disorders, too

“Our findings provide further empirical validation for emotional specificity of patterns of autonomic physiological responses….”  Harrison et al, 2007, 726

“Emotional specificity of physiological responses across individuals has remained surprisingly contentious, particularly when (276) measuring single autonomic responses….Nevertheless, despite high individual variability, there is increasing empirical evidence for patterned autonomic responses associated with different emotional states in humans ….[lists refs]….In addition, autonomic responses have evolved as salient signals for the perception and recognition of emotions (Darwin, 1872):  Thus, psychophysiological changes in the face, such as flushing in anger or blanching in fear, may contribute to signaling an individual’s emotional state.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 727

“Why pupil size is salient only for expressions of sadness remains unclear….central contribution of the eye region to successful recognition of facial expressions of sadness.  Nevertheless, pupillary changes are subtle, vary with ambient light, and may only be perceived at close range.  However, sadness is an affiliative emotion that can draw individuals together and inhibit interpersonal conflict (Blair, 2001).  Speculatively, the communication of sadness intensity through pupil size may have evolved to act over short distances, in contrast to emotions such as anger, which may lead to the “withdrawal” of the observing party.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 728


Sympathetic arousal

“The visual signaling and perception of fear is also linked to perception of the eyes, in particular the sclerae (whites of the eyes).  It was therefore surprising to find no effect of pupil size on intensity or valence ratings for fearful facial expressions.  Moreover, fear is associated with sympathetic arousal, which causes both pupillary dilatation and eyelid retraction (Adolphs & Tranel, 2004) and perhaps also facial vasoconstriction.  Hence, we anticipated that perceived (sympathetic) pupillary dilatation would enhance ratings of fearful expressions.  The fact that we did not observe this effect perhaps emphasizes the degree of organ specificity within emotion-specific autonomic responses patterns.  Alternatively, it may indicate a redundancy of pupillary arousal responses in a context where other facial signs of sympathetic arousal predominate.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 728

are they saying that sadness is a sympathetic arousal?  I wish they specified that here

small and large, but not medium pupil size affected “the perceived intensity of disgust facial expressions”  Harrison et al, 2007, 728

“Perhaps the most clinically relevant finding is the correlation between an individual’s tendency to respond empathically and the same individual’s sensitivity to pupillary signals…. Harrison et al, 2007, 728

“Heuristically, enhanced sensitivity to socially salient signals is anticipated in more empathic individuals.  Indeed, subjects who score highly on the rating scales of emotional empathy have reduced visual thresholds for identifying emotional expressions presented for brief periods (Martin et al., 1996) and show the strongest degree of automatic mimicry (in their facial muscles) of observed facial emotional expressions …. [has refs here]”  Harrison et al, 2007, 728

“The mechanism that specifically links empathy ratings to enhanced sensitivity to pupils during sadness perception remains a topic for future empirical studies.  It is, however, noteworthy that the identification of sadness in others is selectively impaired in psychopaths (Blair, Colledge, Murray, & Mitchell, 2001; Dolarn & Fullam, 2006) and in normal individuals after the administration of propranolol, a drug that blocks peripheral and central beta-adrenergic receptors (Harmer, Perrett, Cowen, & Goodwin, 2001).  Harrison et al, 2007, 729

beta blockers?

“In summary, reduced pupil size, perceived without conscious awareness, selectively enhances the subjective intensity and negativity attributed to sad facial expressions.  Individual differences in the extent to which pupils influence sadness perception reflect, or predict, individual differences in emotional empathy score.  Together, these observations highlight the existence of emotion-specific autonomic signal in affective communication that may potentially contribute to screening tools for clinical disorders of empathy.”  Harrison et al, 2007, 729


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s