The Social Neuroscience of Empathy and Its Implication for Business Ethics

  • Joé T. MartineauEmail author
  • Jean Decety
  • Eric Racine
Part of the Advances in Neuroethics book series (AIN)


The neuroscience of empathy is an active area of research that has led to fundamental contributions to our understanding of its cognitive mechanisms and neural circuitry. However, these contributions to knowledge do not constitute a new “brain-based ethics” or the like. Rather, we argue that, situated within an interdisciplinary neuroethics framework inspired by philosophical pragmatism, cognitive neuroscience approaches enrich our understanding of empathy and its role in organizational and business contexts. Henceforth, in this chapter, contemporary neuroscience joins a long legacy of ethics scholarship on the role and possible contributions of empathy in business ethics. First, we review and synthetize knowledge on emotional and cognitive empathy, on empathic concern, and on the role of the different facets of empathy in motivating prosocial behavior and ethical decision-making, with a focus on the insights offered by recent research on the neuroscience of morality. Second, we discuss the contributions of the neuroscience of empathy and ethical decision-making to business ethics and propose five levels of significance: (1) empathy allows for a more informed decision-making in contexts of complexity; (2) empathy is a skill of ethical managers; (3) empathy is a prerequisite to moral engagement; (4) empathy is a rampart against a cold, impersonal, and dehumanized business; and (5) empathy is an essential aspect of efficient organizations. Implications for practice and education are also discussed.


Empathy Emotions Neuroscience Ethical decision-making Neuroethics Business ethics 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ManagementHEC MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeuroscienceThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Montreal Clinical Research InstituteMontrealCanada

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