Female “subs” show reduced empathic responses to others’ suffering, according to preliminary research on BDSM practitioners.
“Our behavioral and neuroimaging findings cast new light on the relationship between BDSM activities and empathy by yielding evidence that BDSM experience might moderate empathic tendencies an empathic neural responses,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
Two experiments conducted in the study indicated that women who adopted a submissive role (subs) also tended to be less empathetic.
The first experiment of 365 Chinese adults found female subs showed decreased empathic ability compared with a control group of non-practitioners. But there was no difference between female “switches” — meaning women who switch between dominant and submissive roles — and the control group. Likewise, there was no difference in empathic ability between male practitioners and the control group.
Both male and female practitioners, however, reported diminished feelings of subjective pain intensity when viewing facial expressions indicating pain.
“These findings are consistent with previous findings suggesting that the reduction in empathic responses to others’ suffering was associated with frequent exposure to pain-inflicting situations,” the researchers explained.
In the second experiment, the researchers monitored the brain activity of 64 Chinese women using an EEG while the women viewed images of painful and neutral facial expressions. This experiment found a “reliable reduction in empathic brain responses to perceived pain in others in the female submissive group.”
The authors of the study cautioned that researchers are still in the beginning stages of understanding how BDSM impacts empathy.
“Future research should aim to further clarify whether and how variety in practices and interpersonal relationships during BDSM practices shape individuals’ perceptions of others’ feelings.”
The study, “Empathy in female submissive BDSM practitioners“, was authored by Siyang Luo and Xiao Zhang.