An Integrated View of Empathy: Psychology, Philosophy, and Neuroscience

  • Hisashi Nakao
  • Shoji Itakura
Regular Article


In this paper, we will examine and untangle a conflict mainly between a developmental psychologist, Martin Hoffman and a social psychologist, Daniel Batson. According to Hoffman, empathic distress, a vicarious feeling through empathy, is transformed into an altruistic motivation. Batson and others on the other hand, criticize Hoffman, claiming that empathic altruism has no relation with empathic distress. We will point out some problems with Batson’s position by referring to the results of fMRI experiments that suggest empathic distress and empathic altruism share a common basis, and defend Hoffman’s argument. This will also offer new insights into the evolution of empathy.


Empathy Sympathy Evolution of morality Moral psychology 



This paper was supported by NISSAN SCIENCE FUNDATION to the second author. We are grateful to Senji Tanaka for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


  1. Aydede, M. (2000). An analysis of pleasure vis-à-vis pain. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 61(3), 537–570. doi: 10.2307/2653612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Batson, D. (1991). The altruism question: toward a social psychological answer. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Batson, C. D., Duncan, B., Ackerman, P., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(2), 290–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Coke, J. S., Batson, C. D., & McDavis, K. (1978). Empathic mediation of helping: a two-stage model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(7), 752–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Darwall, S. (1998). Empathy, sympathy, care. Philosophical Studies, 89(2–3), 261–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Darwin, C. (1871). [1998]. The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. New York: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  7. Davis, K. D. (2000). The neural circuitry of pain as explored with functional MRI. Neurological Research, 22(3), 313–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis, M. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.Google Scholar
  9. Eisenberg, N., & Strayer, J. (1987). Critical issues in the study of empathy. In N. Eisenberg, & J. Strayer (Eds.), Empathy and its development (pp. 3–13). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gallup, G. (1971). It’s done with mirrors: chimps and self-concept. Psychology Today, 4(10), 58–61.Google Scholar
  11. Goldie, P. (2000). The emotions: a philosophical exploration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Goldman, A. (2006). Simulating minds: the philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of mindreading. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hamilton, W. H. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour 1 & 2. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7(1), 1–16 and 17–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Harris, P. (1989). Children and emotion: the development of psychological understanding. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Hoffman, M. (1981a). Is altruism part of human nature? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(1), 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hoffman, M. (1981b). The development of empathy. In J. P. Rushton, & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Altruism and helping behavior: social, personality, and developmental perspectives (pp. 41–63). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Hoffman, M. (2000). Empathy and moral development: implications for caring and justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hume, D. (1739–40). [2000]. A treatise of human nature. In: D. Norton, & M. Norton (Eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Jackson, P., Meltzoff, A., & Decety, J. (2005). How do we perceive the pain of others?: a window into the neural processes involved in empathy. NeuroImage, 24(3), 771–779.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lipps, T. (1903). Einfühlung, inner Nachahmung, und Organempfindaungen. Archiv fur die Gesamte Psychologie, 2, 185–204.Google Scholar
  21. Matsuzawa, M., Yamaguchi, C., Itakura, S., & Fukuda, S. (2002). 1- 2 Saiji no kyoukan koudou no hattatsu [The development of empathetic behavior in 1- and 2-years old children: 1. Relation to cardiac response]. Proceedings of Showa Joshi University, 5, 56–62.Google Scholar
  22. Mehrabian, A., & Epstein, N. (1972). A measure of emotional empathy. Journal of Personality, 40(4), 525–543.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Melzack, R., & Wall, P. D. (1982). The challenge of pain. England: Penguin.Google Scholar
  24. Morrison, I., Lloyd, D., di Pellegrino, G., & Roberts, N. (2004). Vicarious responses to pain in anterior cingulate cortex: is empathy a multisensory issue? Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 4(2), 270–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nichols, S. (2001). Mindreading and the cognitive architecture underlying altruistic mechanism. Mind & Language, 16(4), 425–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Preston, S., & de Waal, F. (2002). Empathy: its ultimate and proximate bases. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 1–72.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Prinz, J. (2008). The emotional construction of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Peyron, R., Laurent, B., & Garcia-Larrea, L. (2000). Functional imaging of brain responses to pain: a review and meta-analysis. Neurophysiologie Clinique, 30, 263–288.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rainville, P., Duncan, G. H., Price, D. D., Carrier, B., & Bushnell, M. C. (1997). Pain affect encoded in human anterior cingulate but not somatosensory cortex. Science, 277(15), 968–971.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rochat, P. (1991). The infant’s world. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Simner, M. (1971). Newborn’s response to the cry of another infant. Developmental Psychology, 5(1), 136–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith, A. (1759). [2002]. The theory of moral sentiments. In: K. Haakonssen (Ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sagi, A., & Hoffman, M. (1976). Empathic distress in the newborn. Developmental Psychology, 12, 175–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Singer, T., Seymour, B., O’Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2004). Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science, 303(20), 1157–1162.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Trivers, R. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 46(1), 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and History of Science, Graduate School of LettersKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Graduate School of LettersKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

Personalised recommendations