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Empathy: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Approach



There has been recent widespread interest in the neural underpinnings of the experience of empathy. In this review, we take a social cognitive neuroscience approach to understanding the existing literature on the neuroscience of empathy. A growing body of work suggests that we come to understand and share in the experiences of others by commonly recruiting the same neural structures both during our own experience and while observing others undergoing the same experience. This literature supports a simulation theory of empathy, which proposes that we understand the thoughts and feelings of others by using our own mind as a model. In contrast, theory of mind research suggests that medial prefrontal regions are critical for understanding the minds of others. In this review, we offer ideas about how to integrate these two perspectives, point out unresolved issues in the literature, and suggest avenues for future research.

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