Social Justice Research

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 233–255 | Cite as

Empathy and Fairness: Psychological Mechanisms for Eliciting and Maintaining Prosociality and Cooperation in Primates



In the past, prosociality has been considered a hallmark of humans; however, recently, accumulating data have empirically revealed that non-human animals also show prosocial behavior. In situations in which animals cannot predict return benefits, prosocial behavior is probably driven by other-regarding motivation. A sense of fairness and empathy continue to draw attention as the most plausible candidates for the psychological mechanisms underlying such prosocial behavior. In this article, we first introduce comparative studies on prosocial behavior in non-human primates and discuss similarities and differences between humans and non-human primates. Then, we discuss the role of a sense of fairness and empathy. In this paper, we hypothesize that empathy may promote prosocial behavior, whereas a sense of fairness may play a role as a stabilizer, but not as a promoter of prosocial behavior in non-human animals. We further hypothesize that prosocial behavior motivated by sympathetic concerns can survive only with a sense of fairness, the inhibitory system for unnecessarily excessive expression of prosocial behavior. Without a sense of fairness, empathic animals might be exploited by free-riders, which might lead to the extinction of cooperation. Therefore, the interplay of a sense of fairness and empathy are both important to maintaining prosocial behavior and cooperation. This hypothesis seems to be supported by comparative studies with non-human primates and also by neural studies with humans.


Prosociality Cooperation Helping Fairness Inequity aversion Empathy Understanding of others 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of LettersKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  3. 3.Japan Society for the Promotion of ScienceTokyoJapan

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