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The Relationship Between Level of Empathy and Stress Contagion

by Kirby, Heather Lynn

Abstract (Summary)
Although potential benefits associated with social support are well documented, it is also the case that social networks expose an individual to the stressful life events of others. Studies have shown that the stressful life events of others are positively related to negative affect. It has been theorized by several researchers that relationships between, for example, stressful life events of others and negative affect are evidence of a stress contagion process that may occur through empathy. The current study addressed this idea by testing whether the positive relationship that exists between network stress and depressive symptoms varied dependent upon (ie. was moderated by) an individuals level of empathy. A sample of 160 Native American individuals, ages fifty and older, who completed the Coping in Later Life survey was utilized. A series of hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that when network stress is measured by number of life events that occurred to others, empathy does moderate the relationship between network stress and depressive symptoms. This significant interaction occurs both when using a global level of empathy and when the Personal Distress dimension of the measure is removed. Personal Distress alone does not moderate the relationship between overall network stress and depressive symptoms. These data fill several gaps in the social network, stress, and empathy research literature. It also advances the understanding of the stress contagion process.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Dr. Kimberly Wallace; Dr. Gyda Swaney; Dr. Tom Seekins; Dr. Linda Eagleheart-Thomas; Dr. Kathy Kuipers

School:The University of Montana

School Location:USA - Montana

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:psychology

ISBN:

Date of Publication:08/07/2008

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