Journal Article Primate empathy: three factors and their combinations for empathy-related phenomena

Yamamoto, Shinya

8 ( 3 )  , p.e1431 , 2017-05 , John Wiley & Sons
First published: 15 December 2016. Empathy as a research topic is receiving increasing attention, although there seems some confusion on the definition of empathy across different fields. Frans de Waal1 used empathy as an umbrella term and proposed a comprehensive model for the evolution of empathy with some of its basic elements in nonhuman animals. In de Waal’s model, empathy consists of several layers distinguished by required cognitive levels; the perception-action mechanism plays the core role for connecting ourself and others. Then, human-like empathy such as perspective-taking develops in outer layers according to cognitive sophistication, leading to prosocial acts such as targeted helping. I agree that animals demonstrate many empathy-related phenomena; however, the species differences and the level of cognitive sophistication of the phenomena might be interpreted in another way than this simple linearly developing model. Our recent studies with chimpanzees showed that their perspective-taking ability does not necessarily lead to proactive helping behavior. Herein, as a springboard for further studies, I reorganize the empathy-related phenomena by proposing a combination model instead of the linear development model. This combination model is composed of three organizing factors: matching with others, understanding of others, and prosociality. With these three factors and their combinations, most empathy-related matters can be categorized and mapped to appropriate context; this may be a good first step to discuss the evolution of empathy in relation to the neural connections in human and nonhuman animal brains. I would like to propose further comparative studies, especially from the viewpoint of Homo-Pan (chimpanzee and bonobo) comparison.

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