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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Strategic Regulation of Empathy.

Weisz, E., & Cikara, M. (2020, October 9).


Empathy is an integral part of socio-emotional well-being, yet recent research has highlighted some of its downsides. Here we examine literature that establishes when, how much, and what aspects of empathy promote specific outcomes. After reviewing a theoretical framework which characterizes empathy as a suite of separable components, we examine evidence showing how dissociations of these components affect important socio-emotional outcomes and describe emerging evidence suggesting that these components can be independently and deliberately modulated. Finally, we advocate for a new approach to a multi-component view of empathy which accounts for the interrelations among components. This perspective advances scientific conceptualization of empathy and offers suggestions for tailoring empathy to help people realize their social, emotional, and occupational goals.

From the Conclusion

The goal of this review has been to evaluate the burgeoning literature on how components of empathy—in isolation or in concert—differentially affect key outcomes including prosocial behavior, relationship quality, occupational burnout, and negotiation. As such, an important takeaway from this review is that components of empathy can be leveraged to facilitate attainment of important goals. A second takeaway is that in order to effectively intervene on empathy in service of promoting specific outcomes, it is important to understand how these components track together (or not) in people’s everyday experiences. Relatedly, the field of empathy would benefit from thoroughly characterizing the structural and temporal relationships among these components to better understand how they work together (or in isolation) to drive key outcomes. 

Thus it seems that the time is right for the field of empathy research to enter anew wave, which explicitly examines the spontaneous separation or co-occurrence of dissociable empathy-related components, especially in behavioral—both laboratory and field—experiments. Several social neuroscience studies have indicated that this is an important aspect of empathy-related inquiry; as such, it is a promising next step for empathy-related research in more naturalistic contexts. The next wave of empathy research is in position to make incredibly important discoveries about when and for whom specific empathic components reliably predict behavioral outcomes, and to understand how empathy can be regulated to help people realize critical social, emotional and occupational goals.