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Med Anthropol Q. 2012 Sep;26(3):408-30.

On the varieties of empathic experience: tactility, mental opacity, and pain in Yap.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology University of California, Los Angeles, USA.


This article argues that empathy should be considered a multimodal process that not only involves perception, intellection, affect, and imagination but also the bodily and sensory aspects of lived experience. The problem of empathy in anthropological, philosophical, and therapeutic contexts is discussed and a phenomenological approach to empathic experience is advanced. An outline of local orientations to empathy on the island of Yap is provided. The place of pain, tactility, and empathy in the context of a local healer's therapeutic practice is detailed, and a series of specific therapeutic interactions are analyzed. It is argued that local moral orientations to suffering require the healer to rely on alternate modalities of empathic discernment in her attempts to gain access to what her patients are feeling and how their treatment is progressing through time.

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