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Empathy is a concept central to psychiatry, psychotherapy and clinical psychology. The construct of empathy involves not only the affective experience of the other person's actual or inferred emotional state but also some minimal recognition and understanding of another's emotional state. It is proposed, in the light of multiple levels of analysis including social psychology, cognitive neuroscience and clinical neuropsychology, a model of empathy that involves both bottom-up and top-down information processing underpinned by parallel and distributed computational mechanisms. The predictive validity of this model is explored with reference to clinical conditions. As many psychiatric conditions are associated with deficits or even lack of empathy, we discuss a limited number of these disorders including psychopathy/antisocial personality disorders, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, and alexithymia. We argue that future clinical investigations of empathy disorders can only be informative if behavioral, dispositional and biological factors are combined.
Why do people tend to care for upholding principles of justice? This study examined the association between individual differences in the affective, motivational and cognitive components of empathy, sensitivity to justice, and psychopathy in participants (N 265) who were also asked to rate the permissibility of everyday moral situations that pit personal benefit against moral standards of justice. Counter to commonsense, emotional empathy was not associated with sensitivity to injustice for others. Rather, individual differences in cognitive empathy and empathic concern predicted sensitivity to justice for others, as well as the endorsement of moral rules. Psychopathy coldheartedness scores were inversely associated with motivation for justice. Moreover, hierarchical multiple linear regression analysis revealed that self-focused and other-focused orientations toward justice had opposing influences on the permissibility of moral judgments. High scores on psychopathy were associated with less moral condemnation of immoral behavior. Together, these results contribute to a better understanding of the information processing mechanisms underlying justice motivation, and may guide interventions designed to foster justice and moral behavior. In order to promote justice motivation, it may be more effective to encourage perspective taking and reasoning to induce concern for others than emphasizing emotional sharing with the misfortune of others.
Empathy is the ability to experience and understand what others feel without confusion between oneself and others. Knowing what someone else is feeling plays a fundamental role in interpersonal interactions. In this paper, we articulate evidence from social psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and argue that empathy involves both emotion sharing (bottom-up information processing) and executive control to regulate and modulate this experience (top-down information processing), underpinned by specific and interacting neural systems. Furthermore, awareness of a distinction between the experiences of the self and others constitutes a crucial aspect of empathy. We discuss data from recent behavioral and functional neuroimaging studies with an emphasis on the perception of pain in others, and highlight the role of different neural mechanisms that underpin the experience of empathy, including emotion sharing, perspective taking, and emotion regulation.
Whether observation of distress in others leads to empathic concern and altruistic motivation, or to personal distress and egoistic motivation, seems to depend upon the capacity for self-other differentiation and cognitive appraisal. In this experiment, behavioral measures and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging were used to investigate the effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal while participants observed the facial expression of pain resulting from medical treatment. Video clips showing the faces of patients were presented either with the instruction to imagine the feelings of the patient (“imagine other”) or to imagine oneself to be in the patient's situation (“imagine self”). Cognitive appraisal was manipulated by providing information that the medical treatment had or had not been successful. Behavioral measures demonstrated that perspective-taking and treatment effectiveness instructions affected participants' affective responses to the observed pain. Hemodynamic changes were detected in the insular cortices, anterior medial cingulate cortex (aMCC), amygdala, and in visual areas including the fusiform gyrus. Graded responses related to the perspective-taking instructions were observed in middle insula, aMCC, medial and lateral premotor areas, and selectively in left and right parietal cortices. Treatment effectiveness resulted in signal changes in the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, in the ventromedial orbito-frontal cortex, in the right lateral middle frontal gyrus, and in the cerebellum. These findings support the view that humans' responses to the pain of others can be modulated by cognitive and motivational processes, which influence whether observing a conspecific in need of help will result in empathic concern, an important instigator for helping behavior.
In recent decades, empathy research has blossomed into a vibrant and multidisciplinary field of study. This text collects cross-disciplinary, cutting-edge work on human empathy from the perspectives of social, cognitive, developmental and clinical psychology and cognitive/affective neuroscience.