How the social brain experiences empathy: Summary of a gathering

Peggy Mason, Ben Ami Bartal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Explaining how, and even why, the social brain experiences empathy is a complex integrative endeavor that has been explored by scientists of several disciplines working with both animal and human subjects. Current thoughts on empathy and its connection to behavior—prosocial, altruistic, and cruel alike—were explored by scholars in the fields of biology, philosophy, psychology, and anthropology at a conference in Chicago. The speakers' individually unique perspectives merged to provide an inclusive overview of the biological basis of, and cultural influences upon, empathy. The nature of empathy in nonhuman animals, the endocrine requirements for empathy,the effects of empathy on moral behavior, the social nature of pain, the relation between empathy and altruism,the ethnography of empathy, and empathy in the medical setting were discussed. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference demonstrated the advantages of communicating findings across fields while also delineating the difficulties that can stem from the existence of multiple approaches to, and definitions of, empathy. Future progress will be aided by working toward common definitions for empathy, sympathy, altruism, and so on, in concert with cross-disciplinary dialogues that allow practitioners of each discipline to be informed by paradigms and findings from complementary disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-256
Number of pages5
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
John Templeton Foundation
University of Chicago


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