Department of Psychology, Stanford University
IN PRESS at Psychological Bulletin
Empathy features a tension between automaticity and context dependency. On the one hand, people often take on each other’s states reflexively and outside of awareness. On the other hand, empathy exhibits deep context dependence, shifting with characteristics of empathizers and situations. These two characteristics of empathy can be reconciled by acknowledging the key role of motivation in driving people to avoid or approach engagement with others’ emotions. In particular, at least three motives—suffering, material costs, and interference with competition—drive people to avoid empathy, and at least three motives—positive affect, affiliation, and social desirability—drive them to approach empathy. Would-be empathizers carry out these motives through regulatory strategies including situation selection, attentional modulation, and appraisal, which alter the course of empathic episodes. Interdisciplinary evidence highlights the motivated nature of empathy, and a motivated model holds wide-ranging implications for basic theory, models of psychiatric illness, and intervention efforts to maximize empathy.
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