What is it about?

Arm-movement responses to stimuli associated with the self and other people are influenced by our empathy and the relative closeness that we feel lies between others and the self. Contrary to previous thought, our study indicates a link between subjective perceptions of self–other relations and implicit self- and friend–stranger biases in manual responses. People's arm-movements may be (automatically) influenced by our perceptions of how other people and ourselves stand in relation to one another. We discuss implications of our findings for understanding operation of the self in action through implicit and explicit representations of the interrelations between others and the self.

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Why is it important?

This study was the first to document that simple arm-movement responses to stimuli newly-associated with the self and other people are influenced by our empathy and the relative closeness that we feel lies between others and the self. As discussed in this study, these manual motor responses may be reflective of a person's underlying representations of the self and others. The social self is thought to develop through sensorimotor exploration of the social environment from infancy, and manual motor responses (particularly those that are fast and ballistic) may reflect the automatic operation of representations of self–other relations at a fundamental level owing to deeply-ingrained developmental links. Exploring self-bias in motor responses in particular is likely to have important future translational research value for progressing understanding of self-representation(s) in action across different populations; for example, in disorders of the self and neurodevelopmental disorders which manifest both motor deficits and differences in self-related processing.

Perspectives

This article is the latest in a series of studies on the topic of self-representation and action which I was inspired to initiate and develop while working with stroke survivors in the Cognitive Neuropsychology Centre at Oxford University, particularly in relation to those with upper limb hemiparesis. My hope is that along with better understanding disorders of the self and neurodevelopmental conditions with motor deficits, investigating the effects of self-associations on our actions may also be beneficial in motor stroke rehabilitation.

Dr Clea Desebrock
University of Oxford

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This page is a summary of: The influence of empathy and perceived closeness on self- and friend-biases in arm movements., Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance, July 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/xhp0001028.
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