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date: 23 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Empathy and altruism are both “prosocial emotions.” They are most often discussed together under the rubric of “empathy-based altruism” theories, which allow for a truly other-oriented and selfless motivation to give. In addition, most integrative theories of empathy-based altruism assume that this prosocial motivation evolved from the need for altricial mammals to care for helpless offspring, which was extended in evolutionary history to group members and even strangers. This view is widespread and empirically supported. However, there are many times when empathy does not produce altruism and when altruism does not derive from shared affect; there are also prosocial phenomena that are overlooked and distorted by oversimplifications of the empathy-altruism hypothesis. The current chapter reviews empathy and altruism, including definitional issues, distinct features in empathy versus altruism, the neural and physiological mechanisms behind empathy and altruism, and how the two interact during a typical prosocial act, focusing on points of contention or confusion in the literature.

Keywords: empathy, altruism, prosocial behavior, caregiving, offspring care

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