Empathy and Its Discontents

Trends Cogn Sci. 2017 Jan;21(1):24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.11.004. Epub 2016 Dec 2.


What role does the experience of feeling what you think others are feeling - often known as 'empathy' - have in moral deliberation and moral action? Empathy has many fans and there is abundant evidence that it can motivate prosocial behavior. However, empathy is narrow in its focus, rendering it innumerate and subject to bias. It can motivate cruelty and aggression and lead to burnout and exhaustion. Compassion is distinct from empathy in its neural instantiation and its behavioral consequences and is a better prod to moral action, particularly in the modern world we live in.

Keywords: compassion; empathy; morality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Motivation
  • Social Behavior