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Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy

Abstract

Watching another person being touched activates a similar neural circuit to actual touch and, for some people with 'mirror-touch' synesthesia, can produce a felt tactile sensation on their own body. In this study, we provide evidence for the existence of this type of synesthesia and show that it correlates with heightened empathic ability. This is consistent with the notion that we empathize with others through a process of simulation.

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Figure 1: Participants were required to report the site on which they were actually touched (that is, left cheek, right cheek, both cheeks or no touch) while ignoring observed touch (and the synesthetic touch induced by it).
Figure 2: Behavioral correlates of mirror-touch synesthesia.

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Acknowledgements

M.J.B. is supported by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.J.B. conducted the experiments. J.W. devised the concept. The authors contributed equally in all other respects.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael J Banissy.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Relationship between percentage of mirror-touch errors across each behavioural measure and scores on the emotional reactivity subscale of the EQ. (PDF 55 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Participant details for the ten cases of mirror-touch synaesthesia. (PDF 40 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Mean reaction times (± SD) on human trials within the faces experiment when control data was assigned to anatomical or specular spatial congruence according to the direction of difference between incongruent and congruent trials. (PDF 37 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Mean reaction times (± SD) when discriminating the location of tap given to the left hand or right hand on left-right discrimination control blocks. (PDF 37 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 88 kb)

Supplementary Results (PDF 90 kb)

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Banissy, M., Ward, J. Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nat Neurosci 10, 815–816 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1926

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1926

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