The influence of sex and empathy on putting oneself in the shoes of others


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Christine Mohr, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, 12a Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TU, UK (e-mail:


We tested whether putting oneself in the shoes of others is easier for women, possibly as a function of individuals' empathy levels, and whether any sex difference might be modulated by the sex of presented figures. Participants (N=100, 50 women) imagined (a) being in the spatial position of front-facing and back-facing female and male figures (third person perspective (3PP) task) and (b) that the figures were their own mirror reflections (first person perspective (1PP) task). After mentally taking the figure's position, individuals decided whether the indicated hand of the figure would be their own left or right hand. Contrary to our hypothesis, results from the 3PP-task showed higher rotational costs for women than men, suggesting that mental rotation rather than social strategies had been employed. However, faster responding by women with higher empathy scores would appear to indicate that some women engaged social perspective taking strategies irrespective of the figures' position. Figures' sex was relevant to task performance as higher rotational costs were observed for male figures in the 3PP-task for both sexes and for female figures in the 1PP-task for women. We argue that these latter findings indicate that performance was facilitated and/or inhibited towards figures associated with specific social and emotional implications.