Empathy, which implies a shared interpersonal experience, is implicated in many aspects of social cognition, notably prosocial behavior, morality and the regulation of aggression. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the current knowledge in developmental and affective neuroscience with an emphasis on the perception of pain in others. It will be argued that human empathy involves several components: affective arousal, emotion understanding and emotion regulation, each with different developmental trajectories. These components are implemented by a complex network of distributed, often recursively connected, interacting neural regions including the superior temporal sulcus, insula, medial and orbitofrontal cortices, amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, as well as autonomic and neuroendocrine processes implicated in social behaviors and emotional states. Decomposing the construct of empathy into subcomponents that operate in conjunction in the healthy brain and examining their developmental trajectory provides added value to our current approaches to understanding human development. It can also benefit our understanding of both typical and atypical development.
Copyright © 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.