The self to other model of empathy: providing a new framework for understanding empathy impairments in psychopathy, autism, and alexithymia

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Nov;47:520-32. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.021.


Despite increasing empirical and theoretical work on empathy, particularly on the content of empathic representations, there is a relative lack of consensus regarding the information processing necessary for empathy to occur. Here we attempt to delineate a mechanistic cognitive model of empathy in order to provide a framework within which neuroimaging work on empathy can be located, and which may be used in order to understand various disorders characterised by atypical levels of empathy. To this end data from individuals with psychopathy, autism, and alexithymia inform the model, and the model is used to provide a unifying framework for any empathy impairments seen in these disorders. The model adopts a developmental framework and tries to address the four difficult questions of empathy: How do we know what another is feeling? What is the role of theory of mind in empathy? How does the state of another cause a corresponding state in the self? How do we represent another's emotion once emotional contagion has taken place?

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Self Concept
  • Theory of Mind*