The Influence of Empathy and Perceived Closeness on Self and Friend-Biases in Arm Movements

Clea Desebrock, Ayla Barutchu, Charles Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Manual motor responses to newly self-associated as compared with other-associated stimuli in a matching task are typically enhanced. However, little is known about the representations of self and other underlying these responses. An emerging theoretical view is that self-bias in these responses is not influenced by consciously accessible constructs of the self, such as explicit self-esteem, and instead reflects implicit (automatic and preconscious) self-related processing. An alternative view is that self-bias is influenced by explicit self-representations and self-reflective processing. To decide between these two accounts, we introduced the friend variable to a movement adaptation of the matching task and examined for the first time the relationship between self-bias and friend–stranger bias and subjective measures of empathy and personal distance (PD; the perceived closeness between others and the self). Associations were revealed between the subjective measures and the biases in the manual motor responses. Regression analyses revealed that empathy was a significant predictor of self-bias, and PD was a significant predictor of friend–stranger bias. These findings suggest that biases in matching task motor responses may be (directly or indirectly) influenced by explicit representations of the interrelations between others and the self. These biases may therefore not operate independently of higher level self-related constructs as has been suggested previously. We discuss implications of our findings for understanding the operation of different aspects of the self in cognition and action, and across divergent populations, for example, in autism spectrum disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-971
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number9
Early online date18 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Arm movements
  • Empathy
  • Personal distance
  • Self-prioritization
  • Self-relevance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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