Social Bonds and the Nature of Empathy

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Abstract:

Considerations stemming from a basic taxonomy of emotion suggest that the creation of social bonds is a critical domain for affective neuroscience. A critical phenomenon within this group of processes promoting attachment is empathy, a process essential to mitigation of human suffering, and for both the creation and long term stability of social bonds. Models of empathy emerging from cognitive and affective neuroscience show widespread confusion about cognitive versus affective dimensions to empathy. Human empathy probably reflects admixtures of more primitive 'affective resonance' or contagion mechanisms, melded with developmentally later- arriving emotion identification, and theory of mind/perspective taking. From these considerations, a basic model of affective empathy is generated as a gated resonance induction of the internal distress of another creature, with an intrinsic motivation to relieve the distress. It is 'gated,' in that at least four classes of hypothesized variables determine intensity of an empathic response to the suffering of another. Differential predictions of this model vs. current ones, and future tests are proposed.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Clinic for Cognitive Disorders, Quincy Medical Center, Boston University, School of Medicine, Quincy, MA 02169, USA ., Email: dfwatt@brahmacom.com

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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