The ability to experience aesthetics plays a fundamental role in human social interactions, as well as the capacity to feel empathy. Some studies have shown that beauty perception shares part of the neural network underlying emotional and empathic abilities, which are also known to affect sleep quality and duration. In this study, we evaluated for the first time the effects of sleep on the relation between aesthetic perception and empathic abilities in healthy subjects using a mediation analysis approach. One-hundred and twenty-six subjects participated in this study. One-hundred and one subjects slept at home (Sleep Group). The remaining 25 subjects were tested as controls after 1 night of sleep deprivation to assess the effects of lack of sleep on aesthetic perception and empathy (Sleep-Deprived Group). All participants underwent one testing session in which they performed a battery of empathy tests and an aesthetic perception task (Golden Beauty). The results showed that sleep duration mediates the relationship between empathy and aesthetic perception in the sleep group. The mediation effect of sleep was more evident on the emotional empathy measures. Conversely, in the sleep deprivation group the lack of correlations among empathy, aesthetic perception and sleep variables did not allow to perform the mediation analysis. These results suggest that adequate sleep duration may play a significant role in improving cognitive and emotional empathic abilities as well as the capability to give accurate aesthetic judgements.
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