The Neural Underpinnings of the Experience of Empathy

Jean Decety

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Neuroscience

Published in print December 2013 | ISBN: 9780199988709
Published online December 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Neural Underpinnings of the Experience of Empathy

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  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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Empathy is thought to play a key role in motivating prosocial behavior, guiding our preferences and behavioral responses, and providing the affective and motivational base for moral development. While this socioemotional ability has traditionally been examined using behavioral methods, recent work in affective neuroscience has begun to shed light on the neural circuitry within the amygdala, insula and orbitofrontal cortex that instantiates it. This chapter critically examines the current knowledge in affective neuroscience, including theory of mind, and provides an integrative and comprehensive view of the neurocomputational mechanisms that underlie interpersonal sensitivity. Also addressed is emotion-processing dysfunction in individuals with psychopathy and how this can account for their lack of empathy and callous disregard for the welfare of others.

Keywords: empathy; theory of mind; affective neuroscience; amygdala; insula; orbitofrontal cortex; neural circuitry

Article.  12515 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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