In this study we test the possible implications of high empathising skills on bodily self–other distinction by measuring the strength of a body ownership illusion and a related experience of illusory pain. One-hundred adult participants completed the Empathy Quotient (EQ) questionnaire. Twenty participants from the top quintile and 20 participants from the bottom quintile of the EQ distribution took part in a laboratory experiment. In the experiment, a classical Rubber Hand Illusion (RHI) was induced followed by the presentation of a series of painful stimuli to the rubber hand. Participants were asked to self-rate the strength of their subjective experience of the RHI and of the illusory pain. A proprioceptive location judgment on the position of the hidden hand was also required before and after RHI induction, to record drifts towards the rubber hand. We found a significant difference between high- and low-empathy participants in RHI and pain score. The EQ was not related with the proprioceptive location judgement drift. It thus appears to be a better predictor of subjective ownership feelings and phenomenological self–other merging than of the behavioural components of bodily illusions.
Seiryte, A., & Rusconi, E. (2015). The Empathy Quotient (EQ) predicts perceived strength of bodily illusions and illusion-related sensations of pain. Personality and Individual Differences, 77, 112-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.12.048