Predicting prosocial reactions from a video interface


How do we know what we’re measuring is what we think we’re measuring? This question gets at the heart of psychological science. Measurement is widely debated through the topic of psychometrics. Since the measurement of interest relates to abstract ideas such as empathy and compassion, it often relies on a person’s ability to interpret the questionnaires through a highly subjective lens. Researchers often seek to supplement these highly subjective self-reports with experimental designs that situationally elicit emotions. The Socio-affective Video Task (SoVT) is an assessment tool that leverages a video interface to understand prosocial emotions such as empathy and compassion.

The study

An international team recruited 80 participants from an Israeli university for the study. These participants were asked to rate their empathetic and compassionate reactions to videos through the Socio-affective Video Task (SoVT) that presented the suffering of others or neutral scenes. They were later asked to fill standard self-reported questionnaires that assessed empathy, compassion, conflict resolution, and intergroup bias. Comparison between the SoVT task responses and the self-reported responses would provide the research team with a comparison of the construct validity. 


The study results indicate that the video task that depicted suffering elicited more negative affect and compassion compared with neutral scenes, highlighting the ability of the task to capture these heightened emotions. The study did not find that the SoVT empathy measure related to a common empathy scale, but did find that the compassion component of the SoVT responded to the other scales, thus confirming partial cross-method validity of the measure. The SoVT measure did not relate to prosocial tendencies. While more research will be needed to flesh out whether this new video based task could be an additional tool for researchers, these preliminary findings signify the complexity in measuring empathy, compassion, and prosocial tendencies in the laboratory. Understanding these emotions and our ability to test how to improve them might help to develop skills that improve interpersonal relationships and benefit society.

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