Chapter

The Neurobiological Basis of Empathy and Its Development in the Context of Our Evolutionary Heritage

Eric E. Nelson

in Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199755059
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979479 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755059.003.0010
The Neurobiological Basis of Empathy and Its Development in the Context of Our Evolutionary Heritage

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Empathy, or the ability to share feeling states with other individuals, is an important aspect of affiliative, prosocial behavior in modern-day humans. At a neurobiological level, empathic responding is thought to reflect activity within distinct neural circuits subserving other social processes such as understanding person-specific experiences (theory of mind) and reflexive activation of observed experiences in others (mirror neurons). These circuits likely underwent a great deal of elaboration in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. Evidence suggests that these same empathic behaviors and brain circuits also undergo dramatic change within individuals as they develop and may be influenced by interactive and contextual variation across development. This chapter reviews these findings and speculates on evolutionary implications.

Keywords: social development; emotion; psychopathy; social cognition; child

Chapter.  9689 words. 

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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