Empathy has many benefits. When we are willing to empathize, we are more likely to act prosocially (and receive help from others in the future), to have satisfying relationships, and to be viewed as moral actors. Moreover, empathizing in certain contexts can actually feel good, regardless of the content of the emotion itself—for example, we might feel a sense of connectedness after empathizing with and supporting a grieving friend. Does this feeling come from empathy itself, or from its real and implied consequences? We suggest that the rewards that flow from empathy confound our experience of it, and that the pleasant feelings associated with engaging empathy are extrinsically tied to the results of some action, not to the experience of empathy itself. When we observe people's decisions related to empathy in the absence of these acquired rewards, as we can in experimental settings, empathy appears decidedly less pleasant.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Behavioral Neuroscience