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Empathy in Submission?

There’s a long-held thought that female submissives are soft and squishy and care about everyone with a sweet empathy that exudes from their very pores. This study suggests that that’s really just not the case. In fact, it may be that being submissive reduces empathy for the pain of others.

I’m not taking sides here but it might be the truth – after all, if I can take worse pain than that for fun, shouldn’t you be able to? Read the study and share your thoughts in the comments. ~k


Neuropsychologia . 2018 Jul 31;116(Pt A):44-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.01.027. Epub 2017 Jan 23.

Empathy in female submissive BDSM practitioners

Siyang Luo 1Xiao Zhang 2Affiliations expand


The practice of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM) sometimes is associated with giving and receiving pain. It remains unresolved how BDSM practitioners perceive the pain of other people. This study investigated whether and how the BDSM experience affects human empathy. Experiment 1 measured trait empathy and subjective empathic responses in BDSM practitioners and control respondents. The results revealed lower trait empathy scores and subjective pain intensity ratings in the female submissive group (Subs) compared to controls. Experiment 2 measured participants’ neural responses to others’ suffering by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) from female Subs and controls while viewing painful and neutral expressions. We found that the differential amplitudes between painful and neutral expressions in the frontal N1 (92-112ms), frontal P2 (132-172ms) and central late LPP (700-1000ms) were reduced in the submissive group versus the control group. These findings suggest that being in the submissive role during BDSM practice weakens female individuals’ empathic responses to others’ suffering at both the behavioral and neural levels.

Keywords: BDSM; ERP; Empathy; Submissive.

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