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Biology of empathy
Mason, Peggy Department of Neurobiology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
- Empathy in nonhuman mammals
- Biology underlying empathy
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
Scholars in disciplines from philosophy and literature to psychology and biology assign different meanings to empathy. For the purposes of this article, empathy is defined as the affective (emotional) communication between two individuals. This is a broad definition, a lexical umbrella that encompasses a range of states from taking a cognitively complex perspective to unconscious, automatic emotional resonance. Lumping such disparate processes together is warranted because the cognitively complex forms depend on the simpler, automatic expressions of empathy. A person who is impervious to others' emotional states—for example, making fun of someone who is in pain—is unlikely to be able to imagine a friend's emotional reactions to social challenges. Simpler forms of affective communication are necessary building blocks for developing and expressing complex forms of empathic concern.
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