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Empathy Theory

Dolf Zillmann

Subject Psychology
Communication Reception and Effects » Information Processing and Cognitions

Key-Topics emotion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Empathy is a social →  emotion. It comes in response to bearing witness to the emotions of others, usually persons but also other beings thought capable of experiencing emotions. Prototypically, an empathic reaction is evoked by the immediate observation of others’ acute emotions, and it manifests itself in an emotional experience that the witness believes to have some degree of similarity with the witnessed emotions. The evocation of empathic reactions is not limited, however, to the direct observation of others’ emotions in terms of their facial, bodily, and other behavioral expressions. Empathy can be evoked by the presentation of information about the circumstances of others that are presumed to cause acute emotions in these others. Moreover, empathy can be evoked by information about others’ situations and actions that are presumed to have been caused by acute emotions these others experienced earlier ( Stotland 1969 ; Hoffman 1978 ; Zillmann 2006b ). The evoked empathic reaction itself constitutes an emotional experience, primarily because it is associated with increased excitement and awareness thereof (→  Excitation and Arousal ). This awareness tends to foster a subjective appraisal of the reaction as feeling with or feeling for the observed party. The theoretical examination of empathy has pursued two different objectives. First, it has addressed the biological ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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