Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (Psychology) Honours


School of Psychology and Social Science


Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Ken Robinson


The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of depression, mental distress and empathy on the strength of the rubber hand illusion (RHI). The RHI is a perceptual illusion that is thought to occur as a result of visual capture during multimodal sensory stimulation. The RHI was induced in participants by synchronous stroking of their real hand and the visible fake hand for two minutes. Participants were then requested to complete a nine-item questionnaire on the strength of the illusion, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS), which was used to screen for depressive symptoms and general mental distress, and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) to assess each participant’s level of empathy. Results showed that depression and mental distress were positively correlated with embodiment of the RHI, and that the mean score on both the depression and mental distress scales was higher for individuals who experienced the illusion than those who did not. Contrary to the existing literature the correlations found between empathy and strength of the RHI were found for cognitive aspects rather than affective aspects of empathy. The implications of the current study are that individuals who are psychologically less healthy are more likely to experience the illusion. It is possible that diminished interoceptive awareness is responsible for entrainment of the illusion, and this represents a promising avenue for future research.

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