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The Southern Journal of Philosophy

Volume 49, Spindel Supplement


2011

WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP?


A CASE FOR A NARROW CONCEPTUALIZATION

Amy Coplan

abstract: A longstanding problem with the study of empathy is the lack of a clear
and agreed upon definition. A trend in the recent literature is to respond to this
problem by advancing a broad and all-encompassing view of empathy that applies to
myriad processes ranging from mimicry and imitation to high-level perspective taking.
I argue that this response takes us in the wrong direction and that what we need in
order to better understand empathy is a narrower conceptualization, not a broader
one. I propose that empathy be conceptualized as a complex, imaginative process
through which an observer simulates another persons situated psychological states
while maintaining clear selfother differentiation. I defend my view through an
examination of three processes: emotional contagion, a process of self-oriented per-
spective taking that I call pseudo-empathy, and empathy proper. Drawing on recent
findings in social neuroscience, I highlight the differences among these processes and
discuss conceptual, empirical, and normative reasons for keeping them theoretically
and conceptually distinct. sjp_56 40..65

You know, theres a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should
talk more about our empathy deficitthe ability to put ourselves in someone elses shoes; to
see the world through the eyes of those who are different from usthe child whos hungry, the
steelworker whos been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the
storm came to town. When you think like thiswhen you choose to broaden your ambit of
concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant
strangersit becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.Barack Obama (2006a)
The thing that I really care about is making the world more open and connected. . . . Open
means having access to more information, right? More transparency, being able to share things
and have a choice in the world. And connected is helping people stay in touch and maintain
empathy for each other, and bandwidth.Mark Zuckerberg (Stengel 2010, 68)

Amy Coplan is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State UniversityFullerton. Her


major research interests include philosophy of emotion, aesthetics, and ancient Greek philoso-
phy. She has published articles in these areas and is co-editor with Peter Goldie of Empathy:
Philosophical and Psychological Practices (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and is editor of a
collection on the film Blade Runner (forthcoming in Routledges Philosophers on Film series).

The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Volume 49, Spindel Supplement (2011), 4065.
ISSN 0038-4283, online ISSN 2041-6962. DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2011.00056.x

40
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 41
Empathy and bandwidthyou could inscribe the words on Zuckerbergs coat of arms. And
they are without a doubt both good things. But are they good for everybody all the time?
Richard Stengel (2010, 68)

INTRODUCTION

Over the past few decades, there has been a surge of interest in the concept
of empathy, which has come to occupy a central role in countless debates
taking place in both public and academic discourse. Barack Obama writes
about empathy in his book, The Audacity of Hope (2006b), and has invoked the
concept in several different contexts, most notably when he listed the criteria
he would use to choose nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court. This led to
heated political debates over the nature and appropriateness of judicial
empathy, generating what several news outlets called an empathy war.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who was Time magazines 2010
Person of the Year, suggests that one of the major goals of Facebook is to
promote empathy among its users. In speeches given to different audiences in
the past few years, the Academy Awardwinning actress Meryl Streep (2010)
says that empathy is what fuels positive change and that it is at the center of
her well-being and purpose in the world.
While empathys frequent appearance in public discussions is a relatively
new phenomenon, empathy has been a topic of interest in philosophy and
psychology ever since the words introduction into the English language in
1909.1 Yet, today, empathy seems to be of greater concern than ever before,
as researchers from multiple disparate disciplines have become convinced of
its relevance to a wide range of issues, such as the nature and conditions of
morality and moral judgments, how we understand one another, what makes
certain political candidates appealing, how and why we engage with works of
art, what characterizes psychopaths and bullies, how medical workers should
interact with their patients, and the recipe for successful psychotherapy.2
1
In order to capture the German concept of Einfhlung, Edward Titchener transliterated the
Greek word empatheia as empathy, which he first introduced in 1909 in his Experimental
Psychology of Thought Processes. Although Titchener was the first to use the term empathy, by the
time he began discussing it, Einfhlung was already a prominent concept in psychology, aesthet-
ics, and philosophy of social science. For more on this, see Currie, forthcoming; Coplan and
Goldie, forthcoming; Stueber 2000, 2006, 2008; and Kgler and Stueber 2000.
2
For a discussion of some of the current research on empathy, especially within philosophy
and psychology, as well as a survey of the history of the concept, see Coplan and Goldie,
forthcoming. Useful overviews of how the concept of empathy has developed and is currently
employed in particular areas of research, including hermeneutics, developmental psychology,
and psychoanalysis can be found in Stueber 2006, 2008; Batson 2009; Eisenberg 2000;
Verducci 2005; A. Clark 2007; Wisp 1987; Gladstein 1984; Gladstein and Brennan 1987;
Bohart and Greenberg 1997; and K. Clark 1980.
42 AMY COPLAN

Due to its apparent importance to so many different domains, it is crucial


that we address a problem that has plagued the study of empathy for almost
all of its hundred-year historythe fact that there is no clear and agreed upon
answer to the question of what empathy is. There are currently numerous
competing conceptualizations of empathy circulating the literature, which
makes it difficult to keep track of which process or mental state the term is
being used to refer to in any given discussion. We need to be able to keep
track because the different conceptualizations refer to distinct psychological
processes that vary, sometimes widely, in their function, phenomenology,
mechanisms, and effects. The different processes that get called empathy
are not interchangeable, yet all are worthy of study in and of themselves.
Further confusing matters is the fact that researchers studying empathy
employ differing (often incommensurable) approaches, ranging from a priori
theorizing to the examination and analysis of patterns of neural activation
through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Several researchers have responded to the conceptual confusion surround-
ing empathy by advancing a view of empathy as a broad and inclusive
concept. Indeed, this has become the norm in the recent literature. One of the
most famous proponents of this broad view is the primatologist and ethologist
Frans de Waal. A champion of empathy, de Waal has argued for its impor-
tance in research published for academic specialists as well as in books,
articles, and presentations aimed at popular audiences. In The Age of Empathy:
Lessons for a Kinder Society, de Waal says, empathy is the grand theme of our
time (2009, ix). He argues that empathy is an ancient part of our heritage that
has received far too little attention and has often been misunderstood. Phi-
losophers discussions of empathy exemplify this misunderstanding since, in
de Waals view, they neglect important low-level phenomena and focus too
narrowly on highly sophisticated cognitive operations involving processes like
perspective taking. In contrast, de Waal presents a broad conceptualization of
empathy that encompasses an array of psychological phenomena, including
mirroring processes, bodily synchronization, imitation of various forms, and
emotional contagion. He maintains that all of these processes should count as
empathy because all are fundamental features of human nature and of the
social behavior of both human and nonhuman animals. As I mentioned
above, views such as de Waals, which conceptualize empathy as a broad
umbrella concept, have become the norm in the recent literature?3
The motivation behind de Waals approach (and others like it) is admi-
rable. De Waal is right that emotional contagion, mirroring processes, and
3
See, e.g., Hoffman 2000; Davis 1996; Slote 2007, 2010; and Stueber 2006, 2008. De
Waals account elaborates on the model of empathy he developed with Stephanie Preston
(Preston and de Waal 2002).
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 43
different types of imitation are all fundamentally important and merit serious
attention. Philosophers, in particular, are too often guilty of neglecting low-
level affective processes, which play an enormous role in almost every aspect
of human experience. Nevertheless, grouping these together with higher-level
processes is not the best way to highlight their importance. In order to do
justice to these processes, we must treat them as separate and as being worthy
of distinctive conceptualizations. I do not deny that the various processes
referred to as empathy are related in multiple ways, but transforming
empathy into a catch-all term does little to shed light on the nature of these
relationships or on the nature of each individual process itself. On the con-
trary, it leads us to ignore the differences among the processes and to conflate
them in ways that interfere with attempts to understand them.
De Waals approach to empathyto argue for an overarching concept that
applies to a wide variety of processestakes us in the wrong direction. Against
this view, I contend that, far from being emphasized to the point of distrac-
tion, as de Waal claims, the differences among the processes referred to as
empathy have not been emphasized enough. What we need is a narrower
conceptualization of empathy, not a broader one. We need greater precision in
our conceptualizations of the myriad processes that get called empathy, and we
need to specify as clearly and systematically as possible what the different
processes are, how each one works, and why each one matters. Only then will
we be able to appreciate more fully the roles these processes play in our lives.
It is no accident that philosophers have been the ones most often accused
of defining empathy too narrowly. One of the oldest and most important tasks
of philosophy is to formulate, clarify, and refine our concepts and theories to
ensure that they are as specific as possible, possess as much explanatory power
as possible, and can thereby enhance our understanding of the world and of
our experiences. For Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, a critical step in deter-
mining how best to understand and conceptualize a particular phenomenon
is to decide what to exclude from the conceptualization. Put differently, to
figure out what something is often requires us first to figure out what it is not.
Those of us with naturalist commitments must also make sure that our
theories and concepts are informed by and have the capacity to inform
science. They must therefore square with the methods, activities, and discov-
eries of empirical scientists.4 As philosophers, one of the most significant
contributions we can make to interdisciplinary areas of research, such as the
study of empathy, is through the creation of theoretical and conceptual
frameworks that clearly and systematically organizeas much as is
4
See Robert McCauley (forthcoming) for a discussion of philosophical naturalism and the
constraints it places on theory and concept construction. McCauleys methodological approach
is the type to which I think philosophers should aspire.
44 AMY COPLAN

possiblethe patterns, mechanisms, and relevance of the various objects of


study. These frameworks play an essential role in the exchange of ideas,
empirical findings, and methodologies from different areas of research.
To summarize, the goal of my discussion here is to help to show why we
need to refine our conceptual framework of empathy so as to distinguish
clearly several related processes that too often get confused, conflated, or
ignored. Complaining that there are too many things that get called empathy
or that the concept is unclear is nothing new. Indeed, many, if not most, of
the articles published on the topic of empathy in recent decades begin by
acknowledging the slipperiness of the concept and stipulating a definition.
While it is great that so many philosophers, psychologists, film theorists,
anthropologists, medical researchers, and so on, are aware of how muddled
the concept of empathy is, acknowledgement of this fact is not enough. We
need a theoretical framework that makes salient the relevant differences and
similarities between the multiple processes that get referred to as empathy.
In what follows, I begin to construct this sort of framework through an
examination of three of the processes that are commonly referred to as
empathy: emotional contagion, a process of self-oriented perspective taking
(which I refer to as pseudo-empathy), and empathy proper (which I define
as a complex imaginative process through which an observer simulates
another persons situated psychological states while maintaining clear self
other differentiation). Under my conceptualization, empathy has three essen-
tial features: affective matching, other-oriented perspective taking, and clear
selfother differentiation. I maintain that there are empirical, conceptual, and
normative reasons for clearly distinguishing these three processes.
Before turning to my discussion of these processes, I would like to empha-
size a point I made above, namely, that, contrary to claims of others, treating
the various processes referred to as empathy as separate phenomena, each
worthy of its own distinct conceptualization, does not lead to the neglect or
dismissal of any of them. Quite the oppositeit puts us in a far better position
to understand, appreciate, and study all of them. It is in no way my intention
to suggest that the high-level process I refer to as empathy is the only one
worthy of philosophical reflection. I consider the processes I do not count as
empathy to be just as important. In fact, I devote more attention in this paper
to emotional contagion than to empathy proper. I reiterate this point since it
would be easy to conclude that I favor a narrow conceptualization of empathy
due to a lack of interest in any process other than the highly sophisticated one
that I refer to as empathy. Such a conclusion would be false.5

5
I have discussed emotional contagion and its significance in multiple places. See, e.g.,
Coplan 2006 and 2010.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 45
1. EMOTIONAL CONTAGION

I begin with an examination of emotional contagion. A majority of empathy


researchers consider emotional contagion to be a primitive form of empathy
or empathy at its most basic level. Although I understand the logic behind
viewing emotional contagion in this way, I maintain that it is a mistake for a
number of different reasons. (1) Emotional contagion on its own has different
causes than the higher-level processes referred to as empathy; (2) it involves a
different neural architecture (which is to say that it is realized by a distinctive
neural pathway) than the higher-level processes referred to as empathy; (3) it
involves a different phenomenology than the higher-level processes; and (4) it
often results in different effects. During the past twenty years, there have been
huge advances in the empirical study of mirroring processes and the neural
underpinnings of various forms of shared affect. These advances provide solid
empirical evidence showing that emotional contagion differs significantly
from the higher-level processes referred to as empathy, and thus it is high time
for us to update our files.
Emotional contagion is defined by psychologists Elaine Hatfield, John
Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson as the tendency to automatically mimic and
synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those
of another person, and, consequently, to converge emotionally (1994, 153
54). As Stephen Davies explains, this involves the transmission from A to B
of a given affect such that Bs affect is the same as As but does not take As
state or any other thing as its emotional object (forthcoming). Emotional
contagion happens extremely quickly and is typically below the threshold of
awareness, so in standard cases, we end up catching anothers emotion
without realizing it. The main processes involved are facial, vocal, and pos-
tural mimicry and the activation and afferent feedback triggered by mimicry.
All of these processes are automatic and involuntary.6 Emotional contagion is
not a higher-order cognitive process, which explains why it occurs in numer-
ous species, most of which are not thought to possess the capacity for self-
knowledge. Stephanie Preston and de Waal hypothesize that emotional
contagion developed before more complex emotional processes (such as high-
level empathy) and involves fast and reflexive subcortical processes that go
directly from sensory cortices to the thalamus to the amygdala to response
(Preston and de Waal 2002). The research on emotional contagion shows that
due to our hardwired ability to catch the emotions of others, our emotional
experiences can be directly and immediately influenced by anothers emo-
6
See Dimberg 1982, 1988, 1990; Adelmann and Zajonc 1989; Levenson, Ekman, and
Friesen 1990; Bavelas et al. 1987; Hess and Blairy 2001; Hatfield, Rapson, and Le 2009; and
Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson 1994, 5362.
46 AMY COPLAN

tions and need not depend on any conscious evaluation or interpretation of


external events or conditions or of the others emotion itself. This has signifi-
cant implications for the theory of emotion debate since it provides clear
evidence of emotion taking place through automatic, unconscious processes
that occur in the absence of any cognitive evaluation.7
Emotional contagion has multiple characteristics that set it apart from
other processes that lead to shared emotions. First, there is its causal story;
emotional contagion gets triggered by direct sensory engagement with
another person expressing an emotion.8 It is a bottom-up or outside-in
process. To catch the emotion of another, we must be able to directly perceive
the other and the others emotion either through visual or aural observation.
Emotional contagion neither relies on nor involves the imagination or any
other higher-level processing. It is an immediate response that arises through
direct sensory observation. Among the implications of this dimension of
emotional contagion is the fact that films and television shows can generate
emotional contagion responses, while literary narratives cannot.9
Another distinguishing feature of emotional contagion is its automaticity.
It is an automatic process that is thought to occur subcortically when we
encounter another person expressing emotion and perceive that expression. It
is also involuntary; no deliberate effort or thought is required, and the others
emotion is typically transmitted very quickly and without the observer real-
izing that she has caught it.10 Due to the automatic and involuntary nature
of emotional contagion, researchers often characterize it as a kind of reflex.

7
I develop this argument in greater length elsewhere (2010). Davies (forthcoming) takes a
similar position, arguing that the evidence on emotional contagion works against the cogni-
tive or judgment theory of emotion, which is the dominant view in philosophy.
8
The person whose emotion triggers emotional contagion need not be physically present
but must be perceptually accessible. Thus, we can have a contagion response to characters in
films or to news reports providing visual and aural access to a person expressing emotion. See
Coplan 2006 and 2009 and Coplan and Matravers 2011 for discussion of emotional contagion
responses to film. There are good reasons for thinking that, in some cases, animated characters
and nonhuman animals expressing emotion may be able to trigger a contagion response, but
these sorts of cases are beyond the scope of this paper. Davies (forthcoming) argues that we
experience emotional contagion in response to certain kinds of music that mimic the sound of
the human voice expressing emotion. Although I do not discuss these sorts of nonstandard cases
here, everything I say about emotional contagion applies to them as well, and they all still rely
on direct sensory engagement of some form.
9
See Coplan 2006 and 2009 and Coplan and Matravers 2011 for this argument and for
more on how film elicits emotional contagion responses and why it is well suited to do so.
10
It is possible in some cases for one to be aware of experiencing emotional contagion. For
example, psychotherapists and other mental health professionals, who are familiar with the
phenomenon of emotional contagion and have been trained to recognize their own emotions,
may be aware of times when they have experienced emotional contagion. However, these sorts
of cases are not the norm.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 47
A third distinctive feature of emotional contagion is its ability to generate
emotional states that fail to correspond to the emotional state a subject is in
immediately prior to the process of contagion or to a subjects cognitive
evaluation of how things are going in the environment or in the subjects life.11
Suppose, for example, that I am melancholic and view the world and every-
thing in it as hopeless and then encounter an effervescent person (the target
individual) who laughs easily and often.12 I respond to the target individuals
laughter and expressions of joy by beginning to laugh myself, and soon I find
myself feeling joyful. Emotional contagion has altered my emotional state,
transforming it into something markedly different from what I was experi-
encing prior to my encounter with this emotionally expressive target. And this
happened without any changes in my beliefs about the world or my place in
it. I made no cognitive evaluations. I simply had an automatic and involun-
tary response to another persons emotion.
In contrast to most of the other emotional processes referred to as
empathy, emotional contagion typically puts one in an emotional state that is
experienced as ones own, that is, not in relation to the individual whose
emotion leads to the contagion response. In standard cases of emotional
contagion, the subject is unaware that he is catching the emotion of another.
As I explained above, the subject shares the others emotion but not because
of having attempted to adopt the others perspective or because of any
complex reasoning or theorizing. The target individuals emotion triggers the
observers emotion, but once the emotion has been transmitted, there need
not be any connection between the observers emotion and that of the target.
Observers experience the emotions generated through emotional contagion
as their own emotions. These emotions are not experienced vicariously or as
off-line. Thus, if I experience a contagion response of fear as a result of
observing anothers fear, my fear is not a vicarious response or an
imagination-based response. I am simply afraid.
Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that emotional contagion works
this way. One of the functions of our emotions is to alert us to the state of the
environment and to prepare us to act so that we can avoid harm and
approach rewards. With the ability to catch the emotion of a nearby other, I
am able to benefit from any monitoring of our environment that originates
11
Emotional contagion responses to film provide a useful example of this feature of emo-
tional contagion. Murray Smith (1995, 73109) discusses this through an explanation of how
certain formal features of a film can elicit an emotional response that is incongruent with the
dominant emotional responses generated by the film. I expand on Smiths discussion through an
analysis of a climactic scene in Jean Pierre Jeunets 1997 film Alien Resurrection (Coplan, 2006).
12
Psychologists generally refer to the person whose emotion generates emotional contagion,
high-level empathy, or sympathy as the target (e.g., the observer empathized with the targets
sadness; the observer caught the anxiety of the target).
48 AMY COPLAN

within her. My contagion-based emotion response and the physiological


changes and behavior that are part of it cause me to respond to whatever
stimulus has provoked the others emotion without my having to have noticed
that stimulus or to have evaluated the environment in a way consistent with
the emotion. Nevertheless, I am prepared to immediately act and in all
likelihood will act.
Consider the following very simple example. Suppose that Wilma and
Betty are out one day picking berries in the woods. All of the sudden, Betty
sees a ferocious saber-toothed tiger stealthily approaching and is stricken with
fear. Wilma, however, is oblivious to the saber-toothed tiger. Nevertheless,
when Wilma looks over at Betty and observes Bettys expression of fear,
Wilma automatically and involuntarily becomes afraid. As a result, Wilma
experiences a pattern of physiological activity that enables her to deal with
danger in the environment: an increased secretion of norepinephrine
(adrenaline), an increased heart rate, an increase in the electrical conductivity
of the skin (i.e., a rise in the ability to conduct electricity), and so on.13 All of
this happens immediately. Wilma does not need to ask Betty why she is afraid,
nor does Wilma need to apprehend the source of Bettys fear. Wilmas fear
will still cause Wilma to experience the environment as threatening and to
behave accordinglyall because she automatically and involuntarily catches
the fear that Betty expresses.
So far in my characterization of emotional contagion, I have said nothing
about the subject of the contagion response understanding the emotions or
mental states of the target individual whose emotion triggered the contagion
response. In the example just discussed, Wilmas fear does not depend on
understanding Bettys fear in any way. This is why I describe Wilma as
catching Bettys fear. I have left out any talk of intersubjective understand-
ing because I maintain that emotional contagionon its ownprovides no
understanding of the target individuals emotions or mental states more
generally. While it is certainly possible for us to increase our understanding of
anothers emotion by reflecting on a contagion response that we have come
to identify as a contagion response by using that response as a source of data,
reflection of this kind goes well beyond the contagion response in and of itself.
It may seem obvious that emotional contagion in and of itself provides its
subject with no understanding of the target individual or her emotions, but a
number of researchers suggest otherwise. Based on the discovery of and
research on mirror neurons and mirroring processes, many have concluded
that low-level mirroring responses such as emotional contagion generate
13
For a useful discussion of the empirical and philosophical research on emotions and how
they operate, including a summary of some of the latest thinking on physiological response
patterns associated with different emotions, see Robinson 2005, 157.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 49
understanding. Remy Debes refers to this as the mirrored understanding
claim.14 According to this claim, we often understand others actions, sen-
sations, and emotions by directly representing those actions and feelings.
Debes rejects the mirrored understanding claim. He grants that mirroring
may lead to a direct matching of a target individuals emotions with an
observers emotions but explains that it does not follow from this that these
emotions will have the same meaning. Mirroring, he emphasizes, is a cogni-
tively unmediated process that carries no information about the context of the
emotion it transmits (Debes 2010, 236).
Although Debes denies that mirroring offers genuine (or rich) understand-
ing of anothers emotion, he acknowledges that it may impart a special form
of understanding that proponents of the mirrored understanding claim have
yet to articulate. He points out, however, that whatever this special form of
understanding is, it is not the form of understanding typically associated with
empathy or theory of mind.15
I have offered several reasons for thinking that emotional contagion is a
unique process that should be distinguished from empathy and related
higher-order processes. I now turn to a brief discussion of some empirical
evidence for my view that comes from recent work in cognitive and social
neuroscience; this recent work has yielded an impressive array of data, the
implications of which we are only just beginning to grasp. Directly related to
my proposal are recent studies that identify some of the neuroanatomical
substrates of emotional contagion and empathy proper and indicate that the
two processes are based on distinctive neuroanatomical systems that develop
independently and at different rates and that can operate independently of
one another. By showing which brain regions subserve these processes, this
research reveals differences between emotional contagion and empathy that
occur at the subpersonal level.
Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Judith Aharon-Peretz, and Daniella Perry
(2009) conducted a study using the lesion method in order to examine the
14
Debes 2010, 236. Debes, like many of those working on empathy, simulation, and
mindreading, employs the term mirroring to refer to what I term emotional contagion. It is
likely that many researchers are now talking about mirroring because of the discovery of mirror
neurons, which has increased interest in mirroring phenomena in general. I choose to stick with
the term emotional contagion for two reasons. First, it is the term used by many of the
psychologists who have been studying the phenomenon for several decades, including Nancy
Eisenberg, C. Daniel Batson, Elaine Hatfield, John Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson. Second, I
consider emotional contagion to be a more useful description of the process. That having been
said, I do not deny that emotional contagion is a form of mirroring nor do I see any problem
with referring to it as mirroring. There is not yet enough evidence to understand fully the
relationship between emotional contagion and mirror neurons.
15
Debes accepts the more modest claim that mirroring provides only recognition. I am not
convinced that emotional contagionat least on its owngives us even this, but this issue is one
for another day.
50 AMY COPLAN

relationship between emotional contagion and high-level empathy (which


involves perspective taking). They found direct evidence of a behavioral and
anatomic double dissociation between the two processes and were able to
determine that while Broadman area 44 is critical for emotional contagion,
areas 11 and 10 are critical for perspective taking. Several neuroimaging
studies have already been able to identify neural underpinnings of emotional
contagion and perspective taking, but this study was able to investigate
whether or not high-level empathy (or perspective taking) depends on emo-
tional contagion since it used the lesion method (Shamay-Tsoory, Aharon-
Peretz, and Perry 2009, 518).16
Based on neuroanatomical evidence from earlier studies, Shamay-Tsoory
and her colleagues hypothesized that the ventromedial prefrontal (VM)
cortex is critical for perspective taking and that the inferior frontal gyrus
(IFG) cortex is necessary for emotional contagion. To test this hypothesis,
they examined neurological patients with localized damage to either the
VM or IFG areas of the frontal cortex, along with two control groups. One
of the control groups was comprised of neurological patients with posterior
lesions, and the other was comprised of healthy individuals. Shamay-Tsoory
and her colleagues tested the subjects by having them complete tasks
designed to assess the capacity for so-called low-level/emotional empathy
and high-level/cognitive empathy or perspective taking. Their results
showed that patients with VM lesions were impaired in perspective taking
when compared to individuals in both of the control groups and to the
patients with IFG lesions. Patients with IFG lesions, on the other hand,
were shown to be impaired in low-level empathy (or emotional contagion)
when compared to individuals in both of the control groups and to the
patients with VM lesions.
In order to investigate whether or not there exists a double dissociation
between the VM and IFG areas and to examine how the VM and IFG groups
would perform across various tasks, Shamay-Tsoory and her colleagues did a
repeated measures analysis with only the VM and IFG groups, which led to
further confirmation of their hypothesis. Members of the VM group were
found to be impaired in high-level/cognitive empathy when compared to
members of the IFG group, and members of the IFG group were found to be
impaired in low-level/emotional empathy when compared to members of the
VM group.

16
Studies that have identified some of the neuroanatomical substrates underlying emotional
contagion and perspective taking (beyond those discussed by Shamay-Tsoory and her col-
leagues) include Lamm et al. 2007; Jackson, Meltzoff, and Decety 2005; and Ruby and Decety
2004. For discussion of these and related studies, see Singer 2006 and Decety and Meltzoff,
forthcoming.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 51
Shamay-Tsoory and her colleagues interpreted these results as providing
strong empirical support for the existence of two separate systems for the
processes that are commonly labeled empathy: one low-level system involving
emotional matching or mirroring and a separate, more advanced system
involving perspective taking and the cognitive understanding of others
mental states. These systems, they claim, are both anatomically and behav-
iorally distinct.
Lauri Nummenmaa et al. (2008) were also interested in the differences
between emotional contagion (or affective empathy) and cognitive empathy.
They conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study on
healthy volunteers to examine whether emotional empathywhen com-
pared to cognitive empathywould facilitate the recruitment of brain net-
works involved in motor representations and imitation.17 The study was
designed to investigate whether emotional and cognitive empathy recruit the
motor/action representation systems to a similar extent and whether the two
processes recruit different brain networks extending beyond the action rep-
resentation system.
Their findings confirm their hypothesis that significant differences exist
between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. They report increased
activation in the premotor mirror neuron system, which they consider the
core empathy network, in emotional empathy as compared to cognitive
empathy. In addition, they have found support for their hypothesis that
emotional empathy and cognitive empathy activate distinct extended net-
works. Emotional empathy recruits the insula and the thalamus, areas typi-
cally involved in emotional processing; it also leads to increased activation in
the fusiform gyrus (FG) and the extrastriate body area (EBA) representing a
target individuals face and body. Cognitive empathy, on the other hand,
relies more on the frontocortical systems associated with theory of mind and
mentalization. From these findings, Nummenmaa and her colleagues con-
clude that emotional empathy leads to more vigorous mirroring of the target

17
Nummenmaa and her colleagues (2008) and Shamay-Tsoory and her colleagues (2009)
refer to different types or subtypes of empathy, often using emotional empathy to refer to
emotional contagion and cognitive empathy to refer to mentalizing and theory of mind pro-
cesses. This may lead readers to wonder why I do not accept these more specific terms as
referring to different subtypes of empathy rather than insisting on a narrow conceptualization
that excludes emotional contagion and other processes. As I have been arguing, I consider these
processes to be distinctive enough to warrant distinctive labels. In addition, the terms emotional
empathy and cognitive empathy are not used uniformly. Thus, some researchers use emo-
tional empathy to refer to emotional contagion, while others use emotional empathy to refer to
any empathic process involving an emotion, and still others use the term to refer to cases of
empathizing with someone who is experiencing emotion (as opposed to someone who is
thinking or reasoning).
52 AMY COPLAN

individual than cognitive empathy and that the two processes recruit different
brain networks.18
In a review and analysis of recent imaging research in social neuroscience on
empathy and mentalizing, Tania Singer (2006) provides additional support for
the view that emotional contagion differs in significant ways from empathy that
involves perspective taking. Although Singer understands empathy broadly as
a multilevel construct encompassing processes ranging from emotional conta-
gion to high-level perspective taking, her analysis bears directly on my pro-
posal. The empathy studies she analyzes focus primarily on affect sharing and
emotional contagion (ibid., 859), and the major conclusion of her analysis
highlights the differences between low-level processes (such as affect sharing)
and high-level processes (such as perspective taking). More specifically, she
writes that the abilities to understand other peoples thoughts and to share
their affects display different ontogenetic trajectories reflecting the different
developmental paths of their underlying neural structures (ibid., 855).
Singer reviews major findings from three separate research streams in
social neurosciencethose concerning mentalizing, motor action imitation,
and empathizing qua affect sharing. Her review leads her to conclude that the
capacity for affect sharing develops much earlier than the capacity for men-
talizing because it is based on limbic and paralimbic structures and the
somato-sensory cortices, which rely on structures that begin to form early in
brain development. Theory of mind or mentalizing abilities, on the other
hand, rely on structures of the neo-cortex, such as the prefrontal cortex and
lateral parts of the temporal cortex, which are among the last to mature in
brain development.
Singers conclusion is consistent with the phylogenetic and developmental
data. Whereas emotional contagion occurs in a wide range of species, per-
spective taking occurs only in phylogenetically advanced mammals such as
great apes. In those species with the capacity for perspective taking, emotional
contagion shows up much earlier in development than the ability to take up
others perspectives. In humans, infants exhibit the capacity for emotional
contagion moments after they are born, while the ability to engage in per-
spective taking does not develop until the age of four or five.19
Many philosophers interested in empathy have failed to consider the
advances in the empirical research on theory of mind and mirroring pro-
cesses. An important exception to this is Alvin Goldman (2006, forthcoming),
who has played a significant role in the research on mirror neurons and is one
18
Although the study by Nummenmaa et al. (2008) provides important suggestive evidence,
it should be noted that the authors are not consistent in their use of terminology, which makes
it difficult to evaluate their results with certainty.
19
Hodges 2008; Wimmer and Perner 1983; Baron-Cohen, Leslie, and Frith 1985.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 53
of the originators of simulation theory. In recent years, Goldman has refined
and elaborated his simulation theory in accordance with the latest empirical
findings. He now holds a dual-process theory of simulation, according to
which there are two distinct types of simulation: one based on mirroring and
the other based on high-level perspective taking. In line with this, he main-
tains that there are two different routes to empathy and that these are based
on distinct cognitive systems. Direct mirroring experiences, such as emotional
contagion, take one route; enactive empathy or perspective takingbased
empathy, which is a constructive process that is effortful and involves imag-
ined scenarios, takes a different route. The refinement of Goldmans account
of simulation is motivated in large part by fMRI neuroimaging data showing
that the brain regions that subserve perspective taking have minimal overlap
with either motoric areas or the areas involved in mirroring sensations or
emotions (ibid.).
Even though Goldman continues to refer to both types of simulation as
empathy, his theory makes it very clear that the processes are importantly
different. Moreover, Goldmans account is one of the only ones that classifies
low-level processes such as contagion as empathy and yet also clearly specifies
how such processes differ from high-level empathy. I favor conceptualizing
the low-level processes in separate terms but would not object to the adoption
of a model such as Goldmans since it carefully distinguishes these processes.
It should now be clear why I insist that emotional contagion be excluded
from the category of empathy. It has distinctive causes, a distinctive phenom-
enology, and distinctive effects, and it relies on a distinctive neural system that
develops and operates independently of the system underlying empathy
proper. Emotional contagion is a bottom-up process that allows us to catch
others emotions but transmits no understanding.

2. SELF-ORIENTED PERSPECTIVE TAKING


AS A TYPE OF PSEUDO-EMPATHY

In this section, I examine a process that I refer to as pseudo-empathy that


is based on self-oriented perspective taking. This process resembles empathy
(as I conceptualize it) in multiple respects, and yet I argue that, like emotional
contagion, it should be excluded from the category of empathy. I further
argue that any successful conceptual or theoretical framework of empathy will
make salient the ways in which pseudo-empathy differs from the process I
conceptualize as genuine empathy. More specifically, an adequate model of
empathy will specify the ways in which a project of self-oriented perspective
taking differs from one of other-oriented perspective taking. Distinguishing
these two types of perspective taking is necessitated both by recent empirical
54 AMY COPLAN

research and by the need to show that the manner in which we attempt to
take up anothers perspective will determine the likelihood of our gaining
intersubjective or experiential understanding of the other.
What is pseudo-empathy? I use this term to refer to an attempt to adopt a
target individuals perspective by imagining how we ourselves would think,
feel, and desire if we were in the target individuals position. It is, essentially,
a type of self-oriented perspective taking. We use our own selves and our
responses to various simulated or imagined scenarios as a way to gain access
to or understand another persons situated psychological states.
Why call this pseudo-empathy? It seems that this process of trying to put
oneself in the other persons situation is exactly what we want when we ask
another to empathize with us? Suppose I say to my friend, How would you
feel if this happened to you? I say this as a way to elicit empathy and to get
my friend to understand where I am coming from. I acknowledge that we
sometimes speak this way, that we engage in perspective taking of this kind,
and that it is often motivated by the desire to understand another. And I
acknowledge that, in some cases, self-oriented perspective taking provides
some understanding of the others experience. But though it can lead to
quasi-empathic experiences, it does so only in cases where there is a great deal
of overlap between self and other or where the situation is the type that would
lead to a fairly universal response. For example, if Dick is being chased by a
lion and Jane decides to imagine that she is being chased by a lion, Jane is
likely to end up with the same or a very similar experience. However, as Peter
Goldie (1999, 2002, forthcoming) argues, many, if not most, situations are
more complex than this, and one individuals response to a set of circum-
stances is rarely a reliable indicator of what anothers will be. For this reason,
he says, adopting anothers perspective will generally require one to bring a
characterization of the target individual to bear on her imaginative process, a
characterization encompassing facts about the targets character, emotions,
moods, dispositional tendencies, and life experiences.
In other-oriented perspective taking, a person represents the others situ-
ation from the other persons point of view and attempts to simulate the target
individuals experiences as though she were the target individual. Thus, I
imagine that I am you in your situation, which is to say, I attempt to simulate
your experiences from your point of view. Making this distinction may strike
some as splitting hairs, but other-oriented perspective taking is a different type
of process than self-oriented perspective taking, and the difference is not
purely conceptual.20 Empirical studies have shown that other-oriented per-
20
Goldie (forthcoming, 2002) highlights the differences between self- and other-oriented
perspective taking at the conceptual level, ultimately concluding that empathy, if conceived of
in terms of other-oriented perspective taking, is conceptually problematic. Although I do not
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 55
spective taking requires greater mental flexibility and emotional regulation
and often has different effects than self-oriented perspective taking.21 In
addition, recent developments in cognitive neuroscience indicate that the
neural implementation of other-oriented perspective taking differs from that
of self-oriented perspective taking.22
As I mentioned above, I acknowledge that self-oriented perspective taking
occurs. In fact, it is our default mode of mentalizing (i.e., attempting to
understand and predict others mental states).23 Thus, in anticipating anoth-
ers psychological states or behavior, we typically imagine ourselves in the
others circumstances. Our engagement with the other, in this case, focuses
on the others external situation, yet we are the ones in the situation.
I propose that we conceptualize empathy so as to exclude processes that
involve self-oriented perspective taking, unless it is combined with other-
oriented perspective taking.24 There are a number of reasons for this, not the
least of which is that self-oriented perspective taking is associated with a
number of psychological phenomena that are precisely the kinds of phenom-
ena that should be distinguished from genuine empathy, including errors in
prediction, misattributions, and personal distress.25
We have a natural tendency to assume greater similarity between self and
other than typically exists, especially when we attempt to imagine how the
other is feeling or what she is thinking. Put another way, we are naturally
subject to egocentric bias. For example, people often reason and behave as
though others have the same knowledge that they themselves have even when
they know that a given other is very different.26 The assumption of similarity
leads people to conclude that others will feel the same way that they feel, think
the same way that they think, and want the same things that they want.
Psychologists refer to such conclusions as false consensus effects and explain
that they commonly lead to prediction errors regarding others mental states
and behavior. Sara Hodges and Daniel Wegner (1997) argue that this occurs
due to a failure to suppress our own self-perspectives. In anticipating and
share his conclusion regarding the impossibility of other-oriented perspective taking, his discus-
sions of the differences between these two modes of perspective taking offer important insights
into why and how we must distinguish between them.
21
Batson et al. 1997; Batson et al. 2003; Decety and Sommerville 2003; Decety 2006.
22
Ruby and Decety 2001, 2004; Jackson et al. 2006.
23
Keysar, Lin, and Barr 2003; Royzman, Cassidy, and Baron 2003; Jackson, Meltzoff, and
Decety 2006; Goldman 2006.
24
In all likelihood, we sometimes go back and forth between self- and other-oriented
perspective taking. In order to avoid becoming focused solely on ourselves and our own
experiences, we would need to be careful not to spend too much time in the self-oriented phase.
25
For a useful discussion of the empirical literature on egocentric bias and prediction error
and a theoretical explanation in relation to re-enactive empathy and high level simulation (or
mindreading), see Goldman 2006.
26
See Keysar, Lin, and Barr 2003.
56 AMY COPLAN

imagining what anothers experience will be in a given situation, many of us


are unable to move beyond our own perspectives and so rely on our own
imagined experiences to formulate conclusions about the other. We have
difficulty not allowing our own beliefs, values, and occurrent states to influ-
ence our simulation, which is why we regularly fail to understand others or at
least to understand them in a fine-grained way.27
It seems that we understand in the abstract that others are very different
from us, but in our day-to-day lives, we lose sight of this fact and generally
expect others to be just like we are, which causes us to get them wrong in
many different ways. And it is not simply that we fail to understand others
subjective experiences; we often assume that we do understand them, which
leads to a new set of problems. I argue that self-oriented perspective taking
leads to a type of pseudo-empathy, since people often mistakenly believe that
it provides them with access to the others point of view when it does not.
Most of us have had the experience of disclosing something to a friend, having
her respond, I know just how you are feeling, and then realizing within
moments that she does not. It is not that she has not been perspective taking;
she has. But the perspective has been her ownonly the circumstances are ours.
Thus, our friends perspective taking has focused on her, not on us. While this
can be useful for many reasons, it does not yield empathy. One of the reasons
I highlight the distinction between self-oriented and other-oriented perspec-
tive taking is to prevent us from assuming that we get the others experience
when actually we do not. What about cases where we lack the knowledge
necessary to be able to engage in other-oriented perspective taking? Would it
be better in such cases to engage in self-oriented perspective taking? My
answer is no. We are better off recognizing that we are sometimes inca-
pable of genuine empathy, rather than making the assumption that we know
what the other is going through just because we know what we would be
going through in some similar situation. Regardless of whether or not one
accepts the conceptualization of empathy I am proposing, it is critical to
appreciate the differences between these two types of perspective taking.
Another important distinguishing feature of self-oriented perspective
taking is its relationship to personal distress. Personal distressalso some-
times referred to as emotional distress or contagious distressoccurs when
one observes another person in distress and reacts by becoming distressed
himself. In cases of empathetic distress, the observers experience of nega-
tively valenced affective arousal is vicarious; that is, it is represented as a
simulation. Therefore, in spite of feeling distressed, the empathizers focus stays
on the other. In cases of personal distress, however, the observers focus is on

27
See Dunning et al. 1990 and Vallone et al. 1990; see also Goldman 2006.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 57
his own distress and how to alleviate it. Psychologists characterize this
response as a type of overarousal because the observers distress becomes
overwhelming and aversive.28 Individuals who experience personal distress
typically engage in self-directed behaviors designed to alleviate their own
discomfort. For example, an observer experiencing personal distress will often
try to escape from the situation that triggered his distress, regardless of what
this will mean for the target individual whose distress initially caused the
observers distress. In some contexts, a person experiencing personal distress
will display prosocial behavior but generally only when there is no alternative
method of eliminating his discomfort.29
Why is self-oriented perspective taking more likely to lead to personal
distress? Imagining what it would be like for me to be in the awful situation you
are experiencing makes it harder for me to modulate my emotions. I lose
track of the fact that the experiences are actually yours and not mine and end
up feeling so upset that I become completely focused on my own pain and
what I can do to alleviate it. My emotional responses to imagined scenarios
involving me as me lead to greater emotional arousal in general. These effects
are decreased in other-oriented perspective taking because I suppress my
self-perspective, which makes it possible for me to accurately represent the
distressing emotions as the others.
To summarize, personal distress, false consensus effects, and general mis-
understandings of the other are all associated with self-oriented perspective
taking. When we imagine ourselves in another persons situation, it frequently
results in inaccurate predictions and failed simulations of the others thoughts,
feelings, and desires. It also makes us more likely to become emotionally
overaroused and, consequently, to focus solely on our own experiences. To be
clear, I do not wish to suggest that self-oriented perspective taking is a bad
thing or that it never improves our understanding of others, neither of which
is true. Experiencing the other as a version of ourselves in many situations is
a good thing, and it is usually far better than experiencing the other in purely
instrumental terms. Very often it is motivated by a concern for the other and
a desire to understand his experiences, both of which tend to be good things.
It may also be the path by which we learn to engage in other-oriented
perspective taking. Nevertheless, it is a significantly different mode of inter-
subjective engagement than one centered on other-oriented perspective
taking. We must recognize this and alter both our descriptive and normative
theories accordingly.
28
Eisenberg and Strayer 1987; Eisenberg 2000; Hoffman 2000; Batson, Fultz, and
Schoenrade 1987.
29
See Batson, Early, and Salvarani 1997; Batson et al. 1981; Batson 1991; Batson et al.
1997; Batson, Fultz, and Schoenrade 1987; and Decety and Lamm 2009.
58 AMY COPLAN

3. EMPATHY

At last I come to the complex imaginative process I refer to as empathy, a


process through which an observer simulates anothers situated psychological
states, while maintaining clear selfother differentiation. In my view, this
process is the only one that can provide experiential understanding of another
person, or understanding of another from the inside. It is in virtue of its
ability to provide this type of first-person access to another, however imper-
fect, that empathy is a unique and invaluable processand one worth our
attention.
Because my goal in this article is to defend a narrow conceptualization, I
focus in the remainder of my discussion on reasons for keeping empathy
theoretically and conceptually distinct from other processes.30 Having a
precise conceptualization of empathy will greatly enhance our understanding
of its role in various aspects of our lives and will enable us to better evaluate
the research that has already been done.
Genuine empathy is difficult to achieve. To stay focused on the target
individual and move us beyond our own experiences, perspective taking
requires mental flexibility and relies on regulatory mechanisms to modulate
our level of affective arousal and suppress our own perspectives.31 As men-
tioned above, it also often requires at least some knowledge of the target,
though how much depends on the context (Goldie 1999, 2002, forthcoming).
Fulfilling these conditions is not easy, particularly when the other is someone
very different from ourselves; the more unlike a target we are, the more
difficult it is to reconstruct her subjective experiences. As a result, empathy is
subject to biases tied to our familiarity and identification with the target
individual; we are more likely to empathize with those we know well and
whom we judge to be like us in some important respect. Not surprisingly, we
are also more likely to succeed in our attempts to adopt their perspectives.32
In order to represent the situation and experiences of those we know less well
and with whom we fail to identify, we must work harder, and even then, we
will often be unable to simulate their situated psychological states.33
The effort and regulation involved in other-oriented perspective taking
suggests that empathy is a motivated and controlled process, which is neither
automatic nor involuntary and demands that the observer attend to relevant

30
I discuss empathy and its essential featuresaffective matching, other-oriented perspec-
tive taking, and selfother differentiationat greater length elsewhere (Coplan, forthcoming).
31
Decety and Sommerville 2003; Decety and Jackson 2004; Decety and Hodges 2006;
Goldman 2006; Lamm, Meltzoff, and Decety 2010; and Decety and Meltzoff, forthcoming.
32
Hoffman 2000; Eisenberg 2000; Batson et al. 1981.
33
Decety and Jackson 2004; Lamm, Meltzoff, and Decety 2010.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 59
differences between self and other.34 This makes it a top-down process: it must
be initiated by the agent and generated from within, though it is likely that
bottom-up processes, such as emotional contagion, sometimes interact with
this process, providing influential feedback that alters it in important ways.
Questions remain about the exact relationship between bottom-up pro-
cesses (such as emotional contagion and mirroring) and top-down processes
(such as other-oriented perspective taking). The study by Shamay-Tsoory
et al. (2009) shows that empathy does not depend on emotional contagion
because it reveals a double dissociation between the two processes. There is
evidence to suggest a correlation between empathy scores and mirror activ-
ity,35 but other evidence suggests that people highly susceptible to emotional
contagion are less capable of empathy. It seems likely that bottom-up pro-
cesses may help to activate an empathy response and may provide important
experiential information about a targets affective state, generating a feedback
loop, but at this point it is not entirely clear how these processes interact.36
The differences between perspective taking oriented toward the self
and that oriented toward the other have received too little attention in
philosophical discussions of empathy and of intersubjective engagement more
generally;37 however, recent developments in cognitive neuroscience and
philosophy of mind are drawing attention to the existence and significance of
these differences.38 Jean Decety and his collaborators have conducted several
experiments using fMRI to examine the brain activity associated with various
perspective taking tasks and have found that the neurological underpinning of
other-oriented perspective taking differs from that of self-oriented perspective
taking.39 In one such study, Decety and Jessica Sommerville (2003) found
specific activation of the frontopolar cortex, which is chiefly involved with
34
Goldie 1999, 2002, forthcoming; Goldman 2006, forthcoming; Batson et al. 2003; Decety
and Lamm 2009; Decety and Meltzoff, forthcoming; and Hodges and Wegner 1997.
35
See Pfeifer et al. 2008 and Gazzola, Aziz-Zadeh, and Keysers 2006.
36
I have said little about mirror neurons, not because they are not an important part of the
story but because the study of them is still very young and we should therefore exercise caution
about concluding too much. Still, there are a number of exciting discoveries that have occurred
recently that are likely to help complete the picture. Recent research on mirroring and the
mirror system has led some to conclude that mirror neurons are more complex and more widely
distributed than was initially believed and that some mirror responses involve high-level pro-
cesses (Iacoboni 2008, forthcoming). Needless to say, the story regarding mirroring is far from
complete.
37
Discussions of intersubjectivity within continental philosophy are typically more careful
about the differences between self and others, but the concept of empathy does not figure as
prominently in such discussions.
38
Decety 2007; Decety and Chaminade 2003; Decety and Grzes 2006; Decety and
Hodges 2006; Decety and Jackson 2006; Decety and Sommerville 2003; Iacoboni 2008; Goldie
1999, 2002, forthcoming; Goldman 2006, forthcoming; and Hoffman 2000.
39
Decety and Hodges 2006; Decety and Grzes 2006; Decety and Jackson 2006; and Ruby
and Decety 2001, 2004.
60 AMY COPLAN

inhibitory and regulating processes, when subjects were attempting to adopt


the subjective perspective of another individual when contrasted with taking
a self-perspective in the same tasks. Related experiments have revealed that
when subjects were asked to adopt another persons perspective to evaluate
the others beliefs or imagine the others feelings as compared to their own
perspective, the right inferior parietal cortex was involved.40
It is believed that the inhibitory and regulatory mechanisms that subserve
other-oriented perspective taking enable us to suppress our self-perspective
and thus quarantine our own preferences, values, and beliefs.41 These mecha-
nisms are also associated with the modulation of affective arousal, which
provides an explanation for why other-oriented perspective taking is much
less likely to cause aversive arousal and personal distress than self-oriented
perspective taking.42
As scientists continue to investigate the neurophysiological substrates of
various modes of intersubjective engagement and the neural implementation
of shared representations, imitation, and mirroring behaviors, we will be able
to increase further our understanding of how empathy and related processes
work at the subpersonal level, which will improve our conceptualizations
of and theorizing about these processes at the personal level. Although we
have much to learn, the empirical evidence already makes it clear that the
differences between various forms of perspective taking are measurable and
important.
I have made the case that we should conceptualize empathy narrowly and
have argued that there are important reasons for excluding emotional con-
tagion and self-oriented perspective taking from the category of empathy.
There is far more to be said about all of these processes, as well as others I
have not discussed. I hope to have shown, however, that we will be in a much
better position to study and to evaluate these processes if we establish clear
and precise conceptualizations that make salient the unique features of each
process.43

40
Ruby and Decety 2001, 2004; Jackson, Meltzoff, and Decety 2005; Jackson et al. 2006;
Lamm, Batson, and Decety 2007; and Decety and Meltzoff, forthcoming.
41
Decety and Hodges 2006; Decety and Jackson 2006; and Goldman 2006, forthcoming.
42
Batson 1991; Batson, Fultz, and Schoenrade 1987; and Batson et al. 2003.
43
An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the 29th Spindel Conference, Empathy
and Ethics, at the University of Memphis. I would like to thank those who participated in the
conference for their helpful questions, comments, and discussion, especially Stephan Blatti,
Peter Goldie, Joey Miller, Scott OLeary, Julinna Oxley, Jesse Prinz, Robert Roberts, Michael
Slote, and Charles Starkey. I would also like to thank Heather Battaly, Dave Gerkens, and Ryan
Nichols for helpful discussions. I am indebted to Christian Miller for both his excellent com-
ments and his patience. Finally, I am extremely grateful to Remy Debes whose feedback and
support were invaluable.
WILL THE REAL EMPATHY PLEASE STAND UP? 61
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