Empathy, schizotypy, and visuospatial transformations

Cogn Neuropsychiatry. 2010 Sep;15(5):477-500. doi: 10.1080/13546801003711350. Epub 2010 Apr 30.


Introduction: Adopting another person's visuospatial perspective has been associated with empathy, which involves adopting the psychological perspective of another individual. Both reduced empathy and abnormal visuospatial processing have been observed in those with schizophrenia and schizophrenia-related personality traits. In the current study, we sought to explore the relationship between empathy, schizotypy, and visuospatial transformation ability.

Methods: 32 subjects (16 women) performed a visuospatial perspective-taking task and a mental letter rotation task. Response times and accuracy were analysed in relation to dimensions of self-reported empathy, indexed using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, and schizotypy, as measured by the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire.

Results: We found that: (1) greater cognitive and affective empathy were associated with reduced negative schizotypy, and, in men, greater cognitive empathy was associated with reduced positive schizotypy; (2) improved accuracy for imagined self-other transformations in the perspective-taking task was associated with greater self-reported cognitive empathy in women and higher positive schizotypy across genders; (3) faster mental letter rotation was associated with reduced cognitive empathy and increased negative schizotypy in women.

Conclusions: Together, the findings partially support the commonalities in visuospatial transformation ability, empathy, and schizotypy, and posit an interesting link between spatial manipulations of our internal representations and interactions with the physical world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Self-Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult