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PLoS One. 2009 Jun 10;4(6):e5864. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005864.

Exploring empathic space: correlates of perspective transformation ability and biases in spatial attention.

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Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA.


Separate lines of research have noted recruitment of parietal cortex during tasks involving visuo-spatial processes and empathy. To explore the relationship between these two functions, a self-other perspective transformation task and a task of spatial attention (line bisection) were administered to 40 healthy participants (19 women). Performance on these tasks was examined in relation to self-reported empathy. Rightward biases in line bisection correlated positively with trait-level self-reported empathic concern, suggesting a left hemisphere mediation of this prosocial personality trait. Unexpectedly, speed of perspective taking in the self-other transformation task correlated negatively with empathic concern, but only in women, which we interpret in light of gender differences in empathy and strategies for egocentric mental transformations. Together, the findings partially support the commonalities in visuo-spatial attention, perspective-taking and empathy. More broadly, they shed additional light on the relationship between basic cognitive functions and complex social constructs.

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