Perceiving and expressing feelings through actions in relation to individual differences in empathic traits: the Action and Feelings Questionnaire (AFQ)

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Empathy is usually conceived of as independent of the non-verbal behaviors which mediate its experience, though embodied cognition theory predicts that individual differences in action representation will affect empathic traits. The "Actions and Feelings Questionnaire" (AFQ) was designed to capture individual differences in self-awareness of own and others' actions, particularly those associated with feelings, which we predicted would correlate with levels of empathic traits. A pilot 30-item questionnaire included items on perceptual sensitivity to action, imitation, action imagery, and gestural and facial expression. It was completed by a sample of 278 adults (mean age 21.2 years; 189 females, 89 males) along with the 15-item Empathic Quotient (EQ) Questionnaire. Total scores on the final 18-item questionnaire showed strong internal coherence (Cronbach's alpha of 0.81) and test-retest reliability (ICC=0.88), marked effect of sex and highly significant correlation with EQ. The questionnaire was administered to participants in an fMRI study investigating the neural correlates of facial imitation. Total AFQ score correlated with activity in somatosensory cortex, insula, anterior cingulate, and visual cortex. The AFQ shows promise as a brief and simple self-report measure sensitive to variability in the self-awareness of actions associated with feelings. It suggests that much of the variability of empathic traits in typical populations is accounted for by variance in this capacity. We suggest that being more empathic really is about being "touchy-feely," and this questionnaire provides a novel measure of action-based empathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-260
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date20 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016



  • Embodied cognition
  • Motor
  • Emotion

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