Does Empathy Relate to Paranormal Experiences?

In a recent publication, Irwin reexamines the potential relationship between empathy and paranormal experiences. Irwin’s study serves as a replication of previous work and tries to untangle the previously mixed findings between being empathetic and experiencing the paranormal. The current study separates empathy into two components: mentalizing empathy and systemizing empathy. Mentalizing represents the ability to attribute mental states to self and others. Systemizing empathy represents the tendency to look for abstract rules or patterns about how others will behave or react.


Irwin’s findings indicated a predictive relationship with systemizing empathy, but not mentalizing empathy. In other words, people who tend to use rules and predictions in terms of understanding others are more likely to report what they believe to be paranormal experiences. However, additional analysis showed a predictive relationship between more traditional forms of empathy and the reporting of paranormal experiences.


Irwin concludes by stating that some types of measures will weakly predict paranormal experiences, others may not (for reasons that have not been scientifically determined). He suggests that empathy alone is a predictor of paranormal experiences, and warns the audience against reducing these findings to simple tendencies towards mental illness.






Irwin, H. J. (2017). Empathy and parapsychological experiences: a constructive replication. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 81, 1-16.

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