Self and other in action and emotion The relationship between self-agency and empathy
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Background: People usually feel they cause their own actions and subsequent outcomes, which is referred to the sense of self-agency. Although self-agency is often straightforward, the attribution of agency is more difficult in social situations where other agents are present. In these situations, we need to distinguish our actions and effects from those of other people. This distinction between self and other is also necessary for our ability to empathize, because in this case we have to distinguish the other person’s emotion from our own emotional state. Interestingly, several studies suggest that self-agency and empathy rely on the same mechanism of self-other distinction. Therefore, the present study investigates the relationship between self-agency and empathy. Methods: Fifty undergraduates performed a self-agency inference task in which they were subtly primed with an action-outcome before they performed an action and observed the outcome. Empathy was measured through the subscales ‘Personal Distress’ and ‘Empathic Concern’ of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Results: In line with previous research, participants experienced enhanced self-agency when the outcome matched the prime than when the outcome mismatched the prime (matching effect). In contrast to our expectations, no correlation was found between this matching effect and the empathy subscales ‘Personal Distress’ and ‘Empathic Concern’. Conclusions: The study revealed no relationship between self-agency and empathy, which may be due to methodological shortcomings. However, further research is needed to investigate the possible relation and its underlying mechanism of self-other distinction.