Social Contagion of Vasovagal Symptoms in Blood Donors: Interactions With Empathy

Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada. Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, USA. Héma-Québec, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Department of Psychology, Ohio University, Athens, OH, USA.

Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. 2021

Other resources

PICO Summary

Population

Blood donors (n= 530).

Intervention

Various comparators of behavioural techniques on the prevention of vasovagal reactions.

Comparison

Outcome

Donors who witnessed another experiencing a reaction were more likely to spontaneously report symptoms during the blood draw, to be treated for a reaction, to score higher on the Blood Donation Reactions Inventory, and to exhibit smaller compensatory heart rate increases. Donors with higher affective empathy reported more symptoms, exhibited hyperventilation, and were more likely to be treated. Donors with higher cognitive empathy were less likely to require treatment if they witnessed a reaction.
Abstract
BACKGROUND Vasovagal reactions (VVRs) are commonly experienced in medical situations such as blood donation. Many believe that psychosocial contagion can contribute to the development of VVRs, but this is largely clinical lore. PURPOSE The goal of the present investigation was to examine the physiological effects of observing another experience a reaction, focusing on the potential moderating effects of empathy. METHODS This study was part of a randomized controlled trial of behavioral techniques on the prevention of VVRs in blood donors. The sample was composed of 530 healthy university students. Measures of symptoms were obtained with the Blood Donation Reactions Inventory (BDRI) and through observation. Physiological variables were measured using respiratory capnometry and a digital blood pressure monitor. The Affective and Cognitive Measure of Empathy was administered to 230 participants. RESULTS Donors who witnessed another experiencing a reaction were more likely to spontaneously report symptoms during the blood draw, to be treated for a reaction, to score higher on the BDRI, and to exhibit smaller compensatory heart rate increases. Donors with higher affective empathy reported more symptoms, exhibited hyperventilation, and were more likely to be treated. Donors with higher cognitive empathy were less likely to require treatment if they witnessed a reaction. CONCLUSION These results suggest that psychosocial contagion of physical symptoms can occur. The moderating effects of empathy differed depending on the subtype of empathy. Perhaps a better cognitive understanding of how other people are feeling functions as a coping response, whereas feeling sympathetic about others' distress increases one's own.
Study details
Language : eng
Credits : Bibliographic data from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine