Empathy is one thing, but how about actually feeling and responding to someone else’s mood changes? One major insight is seeing how someone else’s brain responds to the same stimuli. Another interesting aspect is having one’s own reactions hijacked and losing the ability to control them. As the New Scientist article asserts, it’s important not to lose our ability to communicate to this extreme form of connection.
If you’re happy and you know it, clap someone else’s hands. A muscle stimulation system aims to evoke empathy by triggering involuntary hand gestures in one person in response to mood changes in another.
“If you’re moving in the same way as another person you might understand that person better,” says Max Pfeiffer at the University of Hannover in Germany.
Pfeiffer and his team wired up four people to an EEG machine that measured changes in the electrical activity in their brain as they watched film clips intended to provoke three emotional responses: amusement, anger and sadness. These people were the “emotion senders”. Each sender was paired with an “emotion recipient” who wore electrodes on their arms that stimulated their muscles and caused their arms and hands to move when the mood of their partner changed.
The gestures they made were based on American Sign Language for amusement, anger and sadness. To express amusement, volunteers had their muscles stimulated to raise one arm, to express anger they raised an arm and made a claw gesture, and to express sadness they slowly slid an arm down their chest. These resemble natural movements associated with the feelings, so the team hypothesised that they would evoke the relevant emotion. Asked to rate how well the gestures corresponded to the emotions, the volunteers largely matched the gestures to the correct mood.