Human beings are certainly capable of selfish, even cruel, behavior. A quick scan of any daily newspaper quickly reveals numerous unkind, selfish, and heinous actions. The question then is why don’t we all engage in such self-serving behavior all the time? What is it that causes us to feel another’s pain and respond with kindness?
Numerous theories have been proposed to explain empathy. The earliest explorations into the topic centered on the concept of sympathy. The philosopher Adam Smith suggested that sympathy allow us to experience things that we might never otherwise be able to fully feel. Sociologist Herbert Spencer proposed that sympathy served an adaptive function and aided in the survival of the species.