The Communication of Emotions and the Possibility of Empathy in Animals

Stephanie D. Preston and Frans B. M. De Waal

in Altruism and Altruistic Love

Published in print April 2002 | ISBN: 9780195143584
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199848119 | DOI:
The Communication of Emotions and the Possibility of Empathy in Animals

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The possibility of nonhuman animals having empathy and sympathy has thus far received little attention in behavioral biology. Many animals are emotionally affected by the distress of another and sometimes show appropriate helping responses. We regard empathy as a general class of behavior that exists across species to different degrees of complexity. Emotional contagion refers to an emotional state in an observer as a direct result of perceiving the emotional state of another, and it is the most basic expression of this emotional linkage or “physiological linkage”. Dyadic relationships are also characterized by an emotional or physiological linkage between individuals. The mother-offspring relationship offers the most basic example of this capacity. Empathy is thought to be more generally exercised across the life span in many mammals. Empathy impairments in psychopathy and autism are thought to be a disruption in the prefrontal system.

Keywords: empathy; emotional linkage; physiological linkage; dyadic relationships; mother-offspring relationship

Chapter.  12610 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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