Term of Award

Spring 2017

Degree Name

Master of Science in Experimental Psychology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 1

Nicholas Holtzman

Committee Member 2

Janice Steirn

Committee Member 3

Michael Vitacco

Committee Member 3 Email



Psychopathy is a disorder largely characterized by a marked deficit in empathy, however, the specificity and extent of the deficit is currently unclear. While it has been well-established in the literature that individuals higher in psychopathy tend to have intact Theory of Mind abilities and exhibit a deficient ability for affective empathy (Blair, 2005), the contribution of motor empathy to these abilities, particularly in regard to empathy for pain, has yet to be experimentally examined. Additionally, the possibility of imitation increasing motor empathic abilities has not been tested in this capacity. The goal of the current study was to further explore the role of motor empathy and imitation in empathetic pain within individuals higher in psychopathy by employing a physiological measure in conjunction with self-report measures.

Participants (N = 120) completed three measures of psychopathy (PPI-R: SF, SRP-SF, and Tri-PM) and a measure of motor empathy (Berg Motor Empathy questionnaire). Skin conductance was measured as all participants viewed 15 static images of faces expressing pain, fear, and a neutral expression while either imitating or observing the expressions and subsequently rated the images using the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM). Results showed that, while participants showed greater SCRs to the aversive images and greater SCRs during imitation, they did not differ in self-report ratings between imitate and observe groups. Further, there were no differential effects of imitation on overall experience of empathetic pain in people higher in psychopathy. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Research Data and Supplementary Material