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.
|John Templeton Foundation
|University of Chicago