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The Social Neuroscience of Empathy$
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Jean Decety and William Ickes

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780262012973

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262012973.001.0001

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Empathy versus Personal Distress: Recent Evidence from Social Neuroscience

Empathy versus Personal Distress: Recent Evidence from Social Neuroscience

(p.199) 15 Empathy versus Personal Distress: Recent Evidence from Social Neuroscience
The Social Neuroscience of Empathy

Jean Decety

Claus Lamm

The MIT Press

This chapter examines empathy as a construct, with an emphasis on a sense of similarity in feelings experienced by the self and the other. It explains how confusion between self and other can turn empathy into sympathy or even personal distress. It reviews the results of recent social neuroscience research that investigated the behavioral and neural responses of people to the pain of others. These studies show that a person who perceives another individual in pain results in the activation of the former’s neural network involved in the processing of firsthand experience of pain. The chapter also looks at the neural circuits responsible for a person’s ability to perceive the pain of others in the context of the shared-representation theory of social cognition. In addition, it discusses perspective taking and the ability to differentiate the self from the other.

Keywords:   empathy, self, sympathy, personal distress, social neuroscience, pain, neural circuits, shared-representation theory, social cognition, perspective taking

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