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

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

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