Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Short Communication

How automatic and representational is empathy, and why

Martin L. Hoffman a1
a1 Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY 10003 [email protected]


The claim that empathy is both automatic and representational is criticized as follows: (a) five empathy-arousing processes ranging from conditioning and mimicry to prospective-taking show that empathy can be either automatic or representational, and only under certain circumstances, both; (b) although automaticity decreases, empathy increases with age and cognitive development; (c) observers' causal attributions can shift rapidly and produce more complex empathic responses than the theory allows.