Christopher Oveis

University of California, San Diego, San Diego, California, United States

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Publications (22)88.55 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: In the present paper, we introduce the Quadratic Vagal Activity-Prosociality Hypothesis, a theoretical framework for understanding the vagus nerve’s involvement in prosociality. We argue that vagus nerve activity supports prosocial behavior by regulating physiological systems that enable emotional expression, empathy for others’ mental and emotional states, the regulation of one’s own distress, and the experience of positive emotions. However, we contend that extremely high levels of vagal activity can be detrimental to prosociality. This paper presents three studies providing support for our model, finding consistent evidence of a quadratic relationship between respiratory sinus arrhythmia—the degree to which the vagus nerve modulates the heart rate—and prosociality. Individual differences in vagal activity were quadratically related to prosocial traits (Study 1), prosocial emotions (Study 2), and outside ratings of prosociality by complete strangers (Study 3). Thus, too much or too little vagal activity appears to be detrimental to prosociality. The present paper provides the first theoretical and empirical account of the non-linear relationship between vagal activity and prosociality.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 01/2015; · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Research examining face-to-face status hierarchies suggests that individuals attain respect and admiration by engaging in behavior that influences others' judgments of their value to the group. Building on this research, we expected that high-status individuals would be less likely to engage in behaviors that violate group norms and expectations, relative to low-status individuals. Adolescent participants took part in an interaction in which they teased an opposite-gender friend (Study 1) or an experiment in which taunting or cheering expectations were manipulated (Study 2). Consistent with the hypothesis, high-status boys and girls engaged in teasing behaviors consistent with their gender roles, relative to their low status counterparts (Study 1). In Study 2, high-status boys engaged in more direct provocation and off-record commentary while taunting, and more affiliative behavior while cheering on their partner, relative to low-status boys. Discussion focused on how expectation-consistent actions help individuals maintain elevated status.
    PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(8):e104737. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The present study investigated how symptoms of mania—associated with heightened and persistent positive emotion—influence emotion experience and perception during distressing social interactions, whereby the experience of heightened positive emotion may not be socially adaptive. Specifically, mania symptoms were assessed via a validated self-report measure, and used to predict emotion experience and perception during a naturalistic conversation between romantic couples about a time of distress and suffering (N = 68 dyads). Results indicated that mania symptoms were associated with increased positive and decreased negative emotion experience and perception between couples, as well as decreased empathic accuracy for partners’ negative but not positive emotions. These findings suggest that mania symptoms may be associated with “rose-colored” glasses characterized by a positively biased emotional experience and outward perception even during perhaps the most intimate and distressing social situations.
    Motivation and Emotion 01/2014; · 1.55 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: What can a speech reveal about someone's state? We tested the idea that greater stress reactivity would relate to lower linguistic cognitive complexity while speaking. In Study 1, we tested whether heart rate and emotional stress reactivity to a stressful discussion would relate to lower linguistic complexity. In Studies 2 and 3, we tested whether a greater cortisol response to a standardized stressful task including a speech (Trier Social Stress Test) would be linked to speaking with less linguistic complexity during the task. We found evidence that measures of stress responsivity (emotional and physiological) and chronic stress are tied to variability in the cognitive complexity of speech. Taken together, these results provide evidence that our individual experiences of stress or "stress signatures"-how our body and mind react to stress both in the moment and over the longer term-are linked to how complex our speech under stress.
    Psychophysiology 12/2013; · 3.29 Impact Factor
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    Evan W Carr, Piotr Winkielman, Christopher Oveis
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    ABSTRACT: Major theories propose that spontaneous responding to others' actions involves mirroring, or direct matching. Responding to facial expressions is assumed to follow this matching principle: People smile to smiles and frown to frowns. We demonstrate here that social power fundamentally changes spontaneous facial mimicry of emotional expressions, thereby challenging the direct-matching principle. Participants induced into a high-power (HP), low-power (LP), or neutral state watched dynamic happy and angry expressions from HP and LP targets while we measured facial electromyography (fEMG) over the zygomaticus major ("smiling muscle") and corrugator supercilii ("frowning muscle"). For smiling, LP participants smiled to all targets, regardless of their expression. In contrast, HP participants exhibited standard smile mimicry toward LP targets but did not mimic the smiles of HP targets. Instead, HP participants smiled more when those HP targets expressed anger. For frowning, all participants showed a more intense mimicry pattern to HP targets. These results demonstrate that spontaneous facial responding-detected by sensitive, physiological measures of muscle activation-dynamically adapts to contextual cues of social hierarchy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
    Journal of Experimental Psychology General 11/2013; · 3.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: As leaders ascend to more powerful positions in their groups, they face ever-increasing demands. As a result, there is a common perception that leaders have higher stress levels than nonleaders. However, if leaders also experience a heightened sense of control-a psychological factor known to have powerful stress-buffering effects-leadership should be associated with reduced stress levels. Using unique samples of real leaders, including military officers and government officials, we found that, compared with nonleaders, leaders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower reports of anxiety (study 1). In study 2, leaders holding more powerful positions exhibited lower cortisol levels and less anxiety than leaders holding less powerful positions, a relationship explained significantly by their greater sense of control. Altogether, these findings reveal a clear relationship between leadership and stress, with leadership level being inversely related to stress.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 09/2012; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This multimethod series of studies merges the literatures on gratitude and risk regulation to test a new process model of gratitude and relationship maintenance. We develop a measure of appreciation in relationships and use cross-sectional, daily experience, observational, and longitudinal methods to test our model. Across studies, we show that people who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners report being more appreciative of their partners. In turn, people who are more appreciative of their partners report being more responsive to their partners' needs (Study 1), and are more committed and more likely to remain in their relationships over time (Study 2). Appreciative partners are also rated by outside observers as relatively more responsive and committed during dyadic interactions in the laboratory, and these behavioral displays are one way in which appreciation is transmitted from one partner to the other (Study 3). These findings provide evidence that gratitude is important for the successful maintenance of intimate bonds.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 05/2012; 103(2):257-74. · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: What happens when people suppress their emotions when they sacrifice for a romantic partner? This multimethod study investigates how suppressing emotions during sacrifice shapes affective and relationship outcomes. In Part 1, dating couples came into the laboratory to discuss important romantic relationship sacrifices. Suppressing emotions was associated with emotional costs for the partner discussing his or her sacrifice. In Part 2, couples participated in a 14-day daily experience study. Within-person increases in emotional suppression during daily sacrifice were associated with decreases in emotional well-being and relationship quality as reported by both members of romantic dyads. In Part 3, suppression predicted decreases in relationship satisfaction and increases in thoughts about breaking up with a romantic partner 3 months later. In the first two parts of the study, authenticity mediated the costly effects of suppression. Implications for research on close relationships and emotion regulation are discussed.
    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 03/2012; 38(6):707-20. · 2.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Individuals who are homozygous for the G allele of the rs53576 SNP of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene tend to be more prosocial than carriers of the A allele. However, little is known about how these differences manifest behaviorally and whether they are readily detectable by outside observers, both critical questions in theoretical accounts of prosociality. In the present study, we used thin-slicing methodology to test the hypotheses that (i) individual differences in rs53576 genotype predict how prosocial observers judge target individuals to be on the basis of brief observations of behavior, and (ii) that variation in targets' nonverbal displays of affiliative cues would account for these judgment differences. In line with predictions, we found that individuals homozygous for the G allele were judged to be more prosocial than carriers of the A allele. These differences were completely accounted for by variations in the expression of affiliative cues. Thus, individual differences in rs53576 are associated with behavioral manifestations of prosociality, which ultimately guide the judgments others make about the individual.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2011; 108(48):19189-92. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Power increases the tendency to behave in a goal-congruent fashion. Guided by this theoretical notion, we hypothesized that elevated power would strengthen the positive association between prosocial orientation and empathic accuracy. In 3 studies with university and adult samples, prosocial orientation was more strongly associated with empathic accuracy when distinct forms of power were high than when power was low. In Study 1, a physiological indicator of prosocial orientation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, exhibited a stronger positive association with empathic accuracy in a face-to-face interaction among dispositionally high-power individuals. In Study 2, experimentally induced prosocial orientation increased the ability to accurately judge the emotions of a stranger but only for individuals induced to feel powerful. In Study 3, a trait measure of prosocial orientation was more strongly related to scores on a standard test of empathic accuracy among employees who occupied high-power positions within an organization. Study 3 further showed a mediated relationship between prosocial orientation and career satisfaction through empathic accuracy among employees in high-power positions but not among employees in lower power positions. Discussion concentrates upon the implications of these findings for studies of prosociality, power, and social behavior.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 04/2011; 101(2):217-32. · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    E J Horberg, Christopher Oveis, Dacher Keltner
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    ABSTRACT: In this article, we advance the perspective that distinct emotions amplify different moral judgments, based on the emotion's core appraisals. This theorizing yields four insights into the way emotions shape moral judgment. We submit that there are two kinds of specificity in the impact of emotion upon moral judgment: domain specificity and emotion specificity. We further contend that the unique embodied aspects of an emotion, such as nonverbal expressions and physiological responses, contribute to an emotion's impact on moral judgment. Finally, emotions play a key role in determining which issues acquire moral significance in a society over time, in a process known as moralization (Rozin, 1999). The implications of these four observations for future research on emotion and morality are discussed.
    Emotion Review 01/2011; 3:1-8.
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    ABSTRACT: Converging findings suggest that depressed individuals exhibit disturbances in positive emotion. No study, however, has ascertained which specific positive emotions are implicated in depression. We report two studies that compare how depressive symptoms relate to distinct positive emotions at both trait and state levels of assessment. In Study 1 (N=185), we examined associations between depressive symptoms and three trait positive emotions (pride, happy, amusement). Study 2 compared experiential and autonomic reactivity to pride, happy, and amusement film stimuli between depressive (n=24; DS) and non-depressive (n=31; NDS) symptom groups. Results indicate that symptoms of depression were most strongly associated with decreased trait pride and decreased positive emotion experience to pride-eliciting films. Discussion focuses on the implications these findings have for understanding emotion deficits in depression as well as for the general study of positive emotion.
    Cognition and Emotion 01/2011; 25(1):40-52. · 2.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In 2 daily experience studies and a laboratory study, the authors test predictions from approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand how dating couples can maintain feelings of relationship satisfaction in their daily lives and over the course of time. Approach goals were associated with increased relationship satisfaction on a daily basis and over time, particularly when both partners were high in approach goals. Avoidance goals were associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction over time, and people were particularly dissatisfied when they were involved with a partner with high avoidance goals. People high in approach goals and their partners were rated as relatively more satisfied and responsive to a partner's needs by outside observers in the lab, whereas people with high avoidance goals and their partners were rated as less satisfied and responsive. Positive emotions mediated the link between approach goals and daily satisfaction in both studies, and responsiveness to the partner's needs was an additional behavioral mechanism in Study 2. Implications of these findings for approach-avoidance motivational theory and for the maintenance of satisfying relationships over time are discussed.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 12/2010; 99(6):948-63. · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Who benefits most from making sacrifices for others? The current study provides one answer to this question by demonstrating the intrinsic benefits of sacrifice for people who are highly motivated to respond to a specific romantic partner's needs noncontingently, a phenomenon termed communal strength. In a 14-day daily-experience study of 69 romantic couples, communal strength was positively associated with positive emotions during the sacrifice itself, with feeling appreciated by the partner for the sacrifice, and with feelings of relationship satisfaction on the day of the sacrifice. Furthermore, feelings of authenticity for the sacrifice mediated these associations. Several alternative hypotheses were ruled out: The effects were not due to individuals higher in communal strength making qualitatively different kinds of sacrifices, being more positive in general, or being involved in happier relationships. Implications for research and theory on communal relationships and positive emotions are discussed.
    Psychological Science 11/2010; 21(12):1918-24. · 4.43 Impact Factor
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    Christopher Oveis, E J Horberg, Dacher Keltner
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    ABSTRACT: Compassion and pride serve contrasting social functions: Compassion motivates care-taking behavior, whereas pride enables the signaling and negotiation of rank within social hierarchies. Across 3 studies, compassion was associated with increased perceived self-other similarity, particularly to weak or vulnerable others. In contrast, pride was associated with an enhanced sense of similarity to strong others, and a decreased sense of similarity to weak others. These findings were obtained using trait measures (Study 1) and experimental inductions (Studies 2 and 3) of compassion and pride, examining the sense of similarity to strong or weak groups (Studies 1 and 2) and unfamiliar individuals (Study 3). The influences of compassion and pride on perceived self-other similarity could not be accounted for by positive mood, nor was this effect constrained by the ingroup status of the target group or individual. Discussion focuses on the contributions these findings make to an understanding of compassion and pride.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 04/2010; 98(4):618-30. · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    E J Horberg, Christopher Oveis, Dacher Keltner, Adam B Cohen
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    ABSTRACT: Guided by appraisal-based models of the influence of emotion upon judgment, we propose that disgust moralizes--that is, amplifies the moral significance of--protecting the purity of the body and soul. Three studies documented that state and trait disgust, but not other negative emotions, moralize the purity moral domain but not the moral domains of justice or harm/care. In Study 1, integral feelings of disgust, but not integral anger, predicted stronger moral condemnation of behaviors violating purity. In Study 2, experimentally induced disgust, compared with induced sadness, increased condemnation of behaviors violating purity and increased approval of behaviors upholding purity. In Study 3, trait disgust, but not trait anger or trait fear, predicted stronger condemnation of purity violations and greater approval of behaviors upholding purity. We found that, confirming the domain specificity of the disgust-purity association, disgust was unrelated to moral judgments about justice (Studies 1 and 2) or harm/care (Study 3). Finally, across studies, individuals of lower socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely than individuals of higher SES to moralize purity but not justice or harm/care.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 12/2009; 97(6):963-76. · 5.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The authors investigate the claim that thin slices of expressive behavior serve as reliable indicators of affective style in children and their families. Using photographs, the authors assessed smile intensity and tactile contact in kindergartners and their families. Consistent with claims that smiling and touch communicate positive emotion, measures of children's smile intensity and warm family touch were correlated across classroom and family contexts. Consistent with studies of parent-child personality associations, parents' warm smiles and negative facial displays resembled those of their children. Finally, consistent with observed relations between adult personality and positive display, children's smiling behavior in the classroom correlated with parent ratings of children's Extraversion/Surgency. These results highlight the utility of thin slices of smiling and touch as indicators of child and family affective style.
    Emotion 09/2009; 9(4):544-8. · 3.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSAREST) indexes important aspects of individual differences in emotionality. In the present investigation, the authors address whether RSAREST is associated with tonic positive or negative emotionality, and whether RSAREST relates to phasic emotional responding to discrete positive emotion-eliciting stimuli. Across an 8-month, multiassessment study of first-year university students (n = 80), individual differences in RSAREST were associated with positive but not negative tonic emotionality, assessed at the level of personality traits, long-term moods, the disposition toward optimism, and baseline reports of current emotional states. RSAREST was not related to increased positive emotion, or stimulus-specific emotion, in response to compassion-, awe-, or pride-inducing stimuli. These findings suggest that resting RSA indexes aspects of a person's tonic positive emotionality.
    Emotion 05/2009; 9(2):265-70. · 3.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Responses to individuals who suffer are a foundation of cooperative communities. On the basis of the approach/inhibition theory of power (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003), we hypothesized that elevated social power is associated with diminished reciprocal emotional responses to another person's suffering (feeling distress at another person's distress) and with diminished complementary emotion (e.g., compassion). In face-to-face conversations, participants disclosed experiences that had caused them suffering. As predicted, participants with a higher sense of power experienced less distress and less compassion and exhibited greater autonomic emotion regulation when confronted with another participant's suffering. Additional analyses revealed that these findings could not be attributed to power-related differences in baseline emotion or decoding accuracy, but were likely shaped by power-related differences in the motivation to affiliate. Implications for theorizing about power and the social functions of emotions are discussed.
    Psychological Science 12/2008; 19(12):1315-22. · 4.43 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Although positive emotion research has begun to flourish, the extremes of positive emotion remain understudied. The present research used a multimethod approach to examine positive emotional disturbance by comparing participants at high and low risk for episodes of mania, which involves elevations in positive emotionality. Ninety participants were recruited into a high or low mania risk group according to responses on the Hypomanic Personality Scale. Participants' subjective, expressive, and physiological emotional responses were gathered while they watched two positive, two negative, and one neutral film clip. Results suggested that participants at high risk for mania reported elevated positive emotion and irritability and also exhibited elevated cardiac vagal tone across positive, negative, and neutral films. Discussion focuses on the implications these findings have for the diagnosis and prevention of bipolar disorder, as well as for the general study of positive emotion.
    Emotion 03/2008; 8(1):23-33. · 3.88 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

256 Citations
88.55 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2011–2014
    • University of California, San Diego
      • Rady School of Management
      San Diego, California, United States
  • 2010–2012
    • University of Toronto
      • Department of Psychology
      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    • The University of Hong Kong
      • Department of Psychology
      Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • 2006–2012
    • University of California, Berkeley
      • Department of Psychology
      Berkeley, CA, United States
  • 2010–2011
    • Harvard University
      • Department of Psychology
      Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2008
    • University of Amsterdam
      • Department of Social Psychology
      Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands