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Am J Psychiatry. 1989 Jan;146(1):10-9.

A biological perspective on empathy.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Sepulveda VA Medical Center, Calif.


During the evolution of the primate CNS, organization of neural activity has been shaped by the need for rapid and accurate evaluation of the motivations of others. Using a broad biological approach, the author considers empathy from evolutionary, ontogenetic, and neurophysiological viewpoints. Emotional communication follows a developmental course in primate evolution and in individuals: specialized neural activity and CNS organization subserve the interpretation of social signals. Neurophysiological studies now in progress may shed light on fundamental questions about the nature of empathy.

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