Psychology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

March 1991


Published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61:3 (1991), pp. 459–470. Copyright ©1991 by the American Psychological Association. Used by permission. “This article may not exactly replicate the fi nal version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.”


The relations of personality and family characteristics to adults’ negative vicarious emotional responses to sympathy and distress films were examined. Ss reported more sympathy and less personal distress and exhibited less skin conductance as well as heart rate deceleration when viewing a sympathy-evoking film. Dispositional emotional intensity and fantasy empathy were associated with greater self-reported emotional responding and higher skin conductance. Dispositional perspective taking and personal distress were positively and negatively correlated, respectively, with reported vicarious responding to the sympathy film when Ss were administered instructions to imagine the emotions of those in the films. Family cohesiveness was associated with reported sympathy and sadness in reaction to the sympathy fi lm, whereas the expression of subordinate and positive emotional states in the home of origin was associated with women’s reported responsivity.