Toward a cross-species understanding of empathy

Trends Neurosci. 2013 Aug;36(8):489-96. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.04.009. Epub 2013 Jun 7.


Although signs of empathy have now been well documented in non-human primates, only during the past few years have systematic observations suggested that a primal form of empathy exists in rodents. Thus, the study of empathy in animals has started in earnest. Here we review recent studies indicating that rodents are able to share states of fear, and highlight how affective neuroscience approaches to the study of primary-process emotional systems can help to delineate how primal empathy is constituted in mammalian brains. Cross-species evolutionary approaches to understanding the neural circuitry of emotional 'contagion' or 'resonance' between nearby animals, together with the underlying neurochemistries, may help to clarify the origins of human empathy.

Keywords: affective neuroscience; anterior cingulate cortex; contagion; emotion; reciprocity; rodent; social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Social Behavior