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Empathy needs a face

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Abstract:

The importance of the face is best understood, it is suggested, from the effects of visible facial difference in people. Their experience reflects the ways in which the face may be necessary for the interpersonal relatedness underlying such 'sharing' mind states as empathy. It is proposed that the face evolved as a result of several evolutionary pressures but that it is well placed to assume the role of an embodied representation of the increasingly refined inner states of mind that developed as primates became more social, and required more complex social intelligence.

The consequences of various forms of facial disfigurement on interpersonal relatedness and intersubjectivity are then discussed. These narratives reveal the importance of the face in the development of the self-esteem that seems a prerequisite of being able to initiate, and enter, relationships between people. Such experiences are beyond normal experience and, as such, require an extended understanding of the other: to understand facial difference requires empathy. But, in addition, it is also suggested that empathy itself is supported by, and requires, the embodied expression and communication of emotion that the face provides.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, Poole, BH15 2JB, UK.

Publication date: 2001-05-01

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