Physiological Synchrony and Affective Protosocial Dynamics

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Psychophysiology is a method of measuring physiological signals, such as heart rate or brain waves, and making psychological inferences based on them. The joint changes of physiological signals within a dyad – physiological synchrony – can also be assessed. In previous studies, synchrony measures have been linked to various affective and social phenomena such as empathy or team performance, but a solid connection to background theory is still missing. This work aims to contribute to the collective effort by exploring physiological synchrony and the associated psychological constructs from the perspective of two overarching research questions: “What social dynamics affect physiological synchrony?” and “Is synchrony associated with self-reported empathy and social presence?”. The focus of this work is on providing insight into the possibilities of using physiological synchrony measures to assess protosocial affective processes.

The original studies of this thesis include Study I, a theoretical contribution that outlines the core ideas, and four empirical contributions, Studies II-V, that use dyadic psychophysiological measurements and self-reports to examine social dynamics in the context of digital media experience. Study II examined physiological synchrony and social presence in a group movie-watching context and whether chat or biofeedback displays, and physical co-location had an effect. Study III investigated multiple modes of competition and collaboration and their within-dyad effects when playing a digital asynchronous turn-based multiplayer game. Studies IV and V are reports from the same experiment that examined compassion meditation in a shared virtual reality environment by using dyadic synchrony biofeedback to support empathy.

In all studies, heart rate-based synchrony indices were associated with social presence or empathy self-reports, but no similar association was found with electrodermal activity indices. Varying physical co-location also affected physiological synchrony, but changes in social dynamics, e.g. different competition modes, did not. The role of attention rose as a central factor in all studies when interpreting the results; it seems that disturbance-free strict focus on the partner or on the communication channel providing important social information resulted in higher synchrony, whereas any division of attention between separate targets weakened it.

In general, the effect sizes in these studies were mostly rather modest, and the results not entirely systematic. They support the notion that physiological synchrony and social presence or empathy are connected, and a more general link to affective protosocial processes is suggested. The potential for dyadic synchrony measures is theoretically immense, but its complexity is a serious hindrance when trying to harness it in practice.
Tryckta ISBN978-951-51-6424-7
Elektroniska ISBN978-951-51-6425-4
StatusPublicerad - 22 okt. 2020
MoE-publikationstypG5 Doktorsavhandling (artikel)


  • 6162 Kognitionsvetenskap
  • 515 Psykologi

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