Neuroscientific research has identified two fundamental components of empathy: shared emotional representations between self and other, and self–other distinction. The concept of shared representations suggests that during empathy, we co-represent another person's affect by engaging brain and bodily functions underpinning the first-hand experience of the emotion we are empathizing with. This possible grounding of empathy in our own emotional experiences explains the necessity for self–other distinction, which is the capacity to correctly distinguish between our own affective representations and those related to the other. In spite of the importance of these two components in empathy, several aspects still remain controversial. This paper addresses some of them and focuses on (i) the distinction between shared activations versus representations, raising the question what shared representations entail in terms of the underlying neural mechanisms, (ii) the possible mechanisms behind self–other distinction in the cognitive and the affective domains, and whether they have distinct neural underpinnings and (iii) the consequences associated with a selective impairment of one of the two components, thereby addressing their importance in mental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, psychopathy and alexithymia.
One contribution of 16 to a theme issue ‘Understanding self and other: from origins to disorders’.
- Accepted October 19, 2015.
- © 2015 The Author(s)