There is disagreement in the literature about the exact nature of the phenomenon of empathy. There are emotional, cognitive, and conditioning views, applying in varying degrees across species. An adequate description of the ultimate and proximate mechanism can integrate these views. Proximately, the perception of an object's state activates the subject's corresponding representations, which in turn activate somatic and autonomic responses. This mechanism supports basic behaviors that are crucial for the reproductive success of animals living in groups. The Perception-Action Model, (...) together with an understanding of how representations change with experience, can explain the major empirical effects in the literature. It can also predict a variety of empathy disorders. The interaction between the PAM and prefrontal functioning can also explain different levels of empathy across species and age groups. This view can advance our evolutionary understanding of empathy beyond inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism and can explain different levels of empathy across individuals, species, stages of development, and situations. Key Words: altruism; cognitive empathy ; comparative; emotion; emotional contagion; empathy ; evolution; human; perception-action; perspective taking. (shrink)
A surfeit of research confirms that people activate personal, affective, and conceptual representations when perceiving the states of others. However, researchers continue to debate the role of self–other overlap in empathy due to a failure to dissociate neural overlap, subjective resonance, and personal distress. A perception–action view posits that neural-level overlap is necessary during early processing for all social understanding, but need not be conscious or aversive. This neural overlap can subsequently produce a variety of states depending on the context (...) and degree of common experience and emotionality. We outline a framework for understanding the interrelationship between neural and subjective overlap, and among empathic states, through a dynamic-systems view of how information is processed in the brain and body. (shrink)
This article demonstrates how researchers from both the sciences and the humanities can learn from Charles Darwin’s mixed methodology. We identify two basic challenges that face emotion research in the sciences, namely a mismatch between experiment design and the complexity of life that we aim to explain, and problematic efforts to bridge the gap, including invalid inferences from constrained study designs, and equivocal use of terms like “sympathy” and “empathy” that poorly reflect such methodological constraints. We argue that Darwin’s mixed (...) methodology is a model for addressing these challenges even in laboratory work on emotion, because it shows how close observation of emotional phenomena makes sense only within broader historical contexts. The article concludes with 5 practical research recommendations. (shrink)
Chater & Loewenstein argue for a shift in focus from individual- to structural-level approaches to societal ills. This is valid and important but overlooks the barriers inherent in the current US partisan context. Psychology can be applied to help people of mixed allyship join together, to effectively and quickly force institutions and corporations to accept structural change.
Only a broad theory that looks across levels of analysis can encompass the many perspectives on the phenomenon of empathy. We address the major points of our commentators by emphasizing that the basic perception-action process, while automatic, is subject to control and modulation, and is greatly affected by experience and context because of the role of representations. The model can explain why empathy seems phenomenologically more effortful than reflexive, and why there are different levels of empathy across individuals, ages, and (...) species. (shrink)
Perception–action approaches are sometimes criticized because empathy takes cognitive forms and people do not overtly imitate or feel all observed states. These complaints reflect a misunderstanding of the framework, which we tried to clarify through a review that bridged social and neuroscientific views. Far from “simple fixes,” these misunderstandings appear to reflect deeply rooted differences in the way that each discipline conceptualizes science and the mind. We address the important points made by the commentators and reiterate the need to incorporate (...) rich, phenomenological descriptions into academic works so that we may prevent such conceptual cross-talk in the future. The open exchange of ideas across fields is often difficult, but essential to an integrated, scientific view of empathy. (shrink)
The shared circuits model (SCM) relies on well-regarded theories of perception-action, mirror neurons, and forward models, but the functional/informational level of the model limits its ability to explain complex behavior such as true imitation. Data from our lab and others confirm the more general details of the model, accepted by most, but specify the neural mechanisms involved in perception-action processes.