Manczak, Erika M. (2023). Is there a cost to caring? Dispositional affective empathy interacts with depressive symptoms to predict higher C-reactive protein 8 years later. Biological Psychology.
Affective empathy, including the tendency to vicariously experience the emotions of others, is a highly-valued prosocial trait, but has been previously found to be associated with higher chronic inflammation cross-sectionally and to interact with the levels of depressive symptoms in important social partners. The current study utilized prospective longitudinal data from a nationally representative study of adults in the United States to assess whether dispositional affective empathy interacted with one’s own depressive symptoms to predict C-reactive protein (CRP) approximately eight years later. Results revealed that higher ratings of empathy predicted higher CRP, but only among individuals with lower levels of depressive symptoms. Higher depressive symptoms related to greater inflammation regardless of dispositional empathy and perceived stress did not account for observed associations. Taken together, these findings suggest that vicariously experiencing others’ emotions may come at a biological cost, which, if sustained, may place individuals at greater risk for inflammatory diseases.
Manczak, Erika M.