Navigation Links
Ability to literally imagine oneself in another's shoes may be tied to empathy
Date:6/23/2009

New research from Vanderbilt University indicates the way our brain handles how we move through spaceincluding being able to imagine literally stepping into someone else's shoesmay be related to how and why we experience empathy toward others.

The research was recently published in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE. The full article is available at: http://tinyurl.com/lw6qmv.

Empathy involves, in part, the ability to simulate the internal states of others. The authors hypothesized that our ability to manipulate, rotate and simulate mental representations of the physical world, including our own bodies, would contribute significantly to our ability to empathize.

"Our language is full of spatial metaphors, particularly when we attempt to explain or understand how other people think or feel. We often talk about putting ourselves in others' shoes, seeing something from someone else's point of view, or figuratively looking over someone's shoulder," Sohee Park, report co-author and professor of psychology, said. "Although future work is needed to elucidate the nature of the relationship between empathy, spatial abilities and their potentially overlapping neural underpinnings, this work provides initial evidence that empathy might be, in part, spatially represented."

"We use spatial manipulations of mental representations all the time as we move through the physical world. As a result, we have readily available cognitive resources to deploy in our attempts to understand what we see. This may extend to our understanding of others' mental states," Katharine N. Thakkar, a psychology graduate student at Vanderbilt and the report's lead author, said. "Separate lines of neuroimaging research have noted involvement of the same brain area, the parietal cortex, during tasks involving visuo-spatial processes and empathy."

To test their hypothesis that empathy and spatial processes are linked, the researchers designed an experiment in which subjects had to imagine themselves in the position of another person and make a judgment about where this other person's arm was pointing. The task required the subject to mentally transform their body position to that of the other person.

"We expected that the efficiency with which people could imagine these transformations would be associated with empathy," Thakkar said. "Because we were interested in linking spatial ability with empathy, we also included a very simple task of spatial attention called the line bisection task. This test involves looking at a horizontal line and marking the midpoint. Although this task is very simple, it appears to be a powerful way to assess subtle biases in spatial attention."

The researchers compared performance on the test with how empathetic the subjects reported themselves to be. They found that higher self-reported empathy was associated with paying more attention to the right side of space. Previous research has found that the left side of the face is more emotionally expressive than the right side. Since the left side of the face would be on the right side of the observer, it is possible that attending more to the expressive side of people's faces would allow one to better understand and respond to their mental state. These findings could also point to a role of the left hemisphere in empathy.

The researchers also found that in the female subjects only, the more empathetic people rated themselves, the longer they took to imagine themselves in the position of the person on the screen. Previous work has shown that women generally report more empathy than men and perform worse on tests of visuo-spatial abilities.

"Although it is somewhat counterintuitive that taking more time to imagine another's physical perspective was associated with more reported empathy, people who were slower at the task might have been engaging more resources to imagine another's mental state, or may be using a slower and less automatic strategy on the task," Park said.


'/>"/>

Contact: Melanie Moran
melanie.moran@vanderbilt.edu
615-322-7970
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Common fish species has human ability to learn
2. The downside of microtubule stability
3. Temporary infidelity may contribute to the stability of ancient relationships
4. Microtest Labs Adds Dissolution Testing to its Suite of Analytical and Stability Testing Services
5. Clemson and collaborators receive $1.1 million to improve durability of concrete infrastructure
6. Physical activity may strengthen childrens ability to pay attention
7. UniPixel Announces Availability of Opcuity(TM) Finger Print Resistant Film Test Samples
8. Making a point: Picoscale stability in a room-temperature AFM
9. K-State biologist collaborating with researchers in Africa on grassland sustainability, biodiversity
10. Crickets may predict human survivability during global warming
11. Salient Stills Notches Significant Advances in Profitability, Diversity of Sales and Customers, and Video Forensics Technology in 2008
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Ability to literally imagine oneself in another's shoes may be  tied to empathy
(Date:2/2/2016)... , Feb. 2, 2016  BioMEMS ... are primarily focused on medical screening and ... point-of-care parameters. Wearable devices that facilitate and ... freedom of movement are being bolstered through ... human biomedical signal acquisition coupled with wireless ...
(Date:2/2/2016)... Feb. 2, 2016  Based on its recent ... Sullivan recognizes US-based Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS) ... Award for New Product Innovation. IRIS, a prominent ... North America , is poised to set ... diabetic retinopathy market. The IRIS technology presents superior ...
(Date:1/27/2016)... , Jan. 27, 2016  Rite Track, Inc. a ... West Chester, Ohio announced today ... service staff, based in Austin, Texas ... ability to provide modifications, installations and technical support offerings ... CEO of PLUS, commented, "PLUS has provided world class ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/11/2016)... , Feb. 11, 2016  Vermillion, Inc. (NASDAQ: ... gynecologic disease, today announced the formation of the Steering ... --> --> Pelvic masses can ... diagnosis and management. Once pregnancy is ruled out, pelvic ... and ovaries, advanced endometriosis, benign ovarian tumors and gastrointestinal ...
(Date:2/11/2016)... 11, 2016  Bioethics International, a not-for-profit organization focused on ... marketed and made accessible to patients around the world, today ... named the publication of the Good Pharma Scorecard ... also featured as one of BMJ Open ,s ,Most ... that are most frequently read. Ed Sucksmith , ...
(Date:2/11/2016)... , Feb. 11, 2016  Wellcentive today announced ... Portland, Oregon -based community care organization ... population health analytics, quality reporting and care management ... strengthen its team of quality managers, analysts and ... the provider groups serving FamilyCare members. ...
(Date:2/11/2016)... Feb. 11, 2016  Dovetail Genomics™ LLC today announced ... program for a planned metagenomic genome assembly service. ... metagenomic genome assembly method in a talk on Friday, ... & Technology conference in Orlando, Fla. ... complex datasets is difficult. Using its proprietary ...
Breaking Biology Technology: