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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter (A) November 16, 2010

A Spatial and Perspective Change Theory of the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

  • Alain Berthoz and Bérangère Thirioux
From the journal Paragrana


Empathy is a multicomponent faculty of the human brain which is funda-mental for social interactions.Understanding its behavioural, cognitive, emotional neural mechanisms and pathology is a major interdisciplinary challenge..Here we propose, in relation with a modern conception of the Philosophical tradition of Phenomenology and a primary role of cognitive embodiement, a new theory in which we give an important although not exclusive, role to the brain mechanisms which also are involved in spatial cognition: we show, that there is a basic difference between *sympathy* and *empathy*. Whether sympathy is akin to emotional contagion and does not require the siubject to adopt the point of view of others, empathy requires a dynamic and complex manipulation of spatial reference frames. We give an example of an experiment using virtual reality in which a subject interacts with an artificial tight rope walker and discuss also the possible interindividual differences, and gender differences, in the different strategies used by subjects to have an empathic relationship.

Published Online: 2010-11-16
Published in Print: 2010-11

© by Akademie Verlag, Berlin, Germany

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