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


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.