Responding to the emotions of others: dissociating forms of empathy through the study of typical and psychiatric populations

Conscious Cogn. 2005 Dec;14(4):698-718. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2005.06.004. Epub 2005 Sep 12.


Empathy is a lay term that is becoming increasingly viewed as a unitary function within the field of cognitive neuroscience. In this paper, a selective review of the empathy literature is provided. It is argued from this literature that empathy is not a unitary system but rather a loose collection of partially dissociable neurocognitive systems. In particular, three main divisions can be made: cognitive empathy (or Theory of Mind), motor empathy, and emotional empathy. The two main psychiatric disorders associated with empathic dysfunction are considered: autism and psychopathy. It is argued that individuals with autism show difficulties with cognitive and motor empathy but less clear difficulties with respect to emotional empathy. In contrast, individuals with psychopathy show clear difficulties with a specific form of emotional empathy but no indications of impairment with cognitive and motor empathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Social Perception*