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Prog Brain Res. 2006;156:419-40.

The multiple facets of empathy: a survey of theory and evidence.

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Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.


Empathy is the ability to perceive and understand other people's emotions and to react appropriately. This ability is a necessary prerequisite for successful interpersonal interaction. Empathy is a multifaceted construct including low-level mechanisms like emotional contagion as well as high-level processes like perspective-taking. The ability to empathize varies between individuals and is considered a stable personality trait: some people are generally more successful in empathizing than others. In this chapter we will first present different conceptualizations of the construct of empathy, and refer to empathy-regulating processes as well as to the relationship between empathy and social behavior. Then, we will review peripheral physiological and brain imaging studies pertaining to low- and high-level empathic processes, empathy-modulating processes, and the link between empathy and social behavior. Further, we will present evidence regarding interindividual differences in these processes as an important source of information for solving the conundrum of how the comprehension of others' emotions is achieved by our brains.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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