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When do we empathize?

Abstract : According to a motor theory of empathy, empathy results from the automatic activation of emotion triggered by the observation of someone else's emotion. It has been found that the subjective experience of emotions and the observation of someone else experiencing the same emotion activate overlapping brain areas. These shared representations of emotions (SRE) could be the key for the understanding of empathy. However, if the automatic activation of SRE suffi ces to induce empathy, we would be in a permanent emotional turmoil. In contrast, it seems intuitively that we do not empathize all the time and that far from being automatic, empathy should be explained by a complex set of cognitive and motivational factors. I will provide here a new account of the automaticity of empathy, starting from a very simple question: when do we empathize? We need to distinguish clearly the activation of SRE and empathy. I will provide a model that accounts both for the automaticity of the activation of SRE and for the selectiveness of empathy. As Prinz says about imitation, the problem is not so much to account for the ubiquitous occurrence of empathy, but rather for its notorious nonoccurrence in many situations.
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Contributor : Frédérique de Vignemont <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - 2:16:20 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 2, 2021 - 9:58:02 AM
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  • HAL Id : ijn_00169590, version 1



Frédérique de Vignemont. When do we empathize?. Novartis Foundation symposium, 2006, 278, pp.180-195. ⟨ijn_00169590⟩



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