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Prog Neurobiol. 2012 Jul;98(1):38-48. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2012.05.001. Epub 2012 May 11.

A neurobehavioral evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms underlying empathy.

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Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


In mammals, empathy is crucial for living in social groups and caring for others. In this paper, we consider the structural and functional organization of empathy. We propose that empathy subsumes a variety of neurobiological processes and partially dissociable information processing subsystems, each of which has a unique evolutionary history. Even the most advanced and flexible forms of empathy in humans are built on more basic forms and remain connected to core subcortical and neurohormonal mechanisms associated with affective communication, parental care and social attachment processes. Considering empathy within a framework that recognizes both the continuities and the changes within a phylogenetic perspective provides a richer understanding of empathy and related neurobehavioral processes.

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