- We review the social neuroscience of empathy.
- We discuss the terms cognitive, motor and affective empathy.
- We explore the possible roles of shared neural activations in empathy.
- We critically discuss the relationship of mirror neurons and empathy.
- We outline that empathy and morality are not directly linked.
In the last decade, the phenomenon of empathy has received widespread attention by the field of social neuroscience. This has provided fresh insights for theoretical models of empathy, and substantially influenced the academic and public conceptions about this complex social skill.
The present paper highlights three key issues which are often linked to empathy, but which at the same time might obscure our understanding of it.
These issues are:
- (1) shared neural activations and whether these can be interpreted as evidence for simulation accounts of empathy;
- (2) the causal link of empathy to our presumed mirror neuron system; and
- (3) the question whether increasing empathy will result in better moral decisions and behaviors.
The aim of our review is to provide the basis for critically evaluating our current understanding of empathy, and its public reception, and to inspire new research directions.