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Empathy, which means literally “to feel for another,” is an important aspect of social interaction. Although empathy has been studied philosophically for thousands of years, psychological consideration of empathy did not begin until the first decade of the twentieth century, first in introspective psychology then more generally in many other fields of psychology including psychoanalysis. Issues in the study of empathy have arisen due to multiple definitions and a lack of consensus on what to investigate and how. Recent studies of empathy focus on: Its potential persuasive effects on prosocial behavior, such as contributing time, food, supplies and money after a disaster; mirror neurons involvement in empathy; psychoneurologic sites of empathic response; level of empathy in various groups such as depressed people; how empathy is developed from infancy through childhood, and many other areas.

Understanding and fostering empathy within therapeutic situations, individual development, groups and cultures is important to all responsible for positive social change. Consideration of empathy throughout the history of the behavioral sciences is a microcosm of the conflicting theories, the merging of theories, and the continual development toward integrated psychological thought. Empathy within individuals and cultures is a continuous process of development, with many possibilities for promoting more cohesive social behaviors.


Danziger, K. (2000). Making social psychology experimental: A conceptual history, 1920-1970 [Electronic version]. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36(4), 329-327.

Duan, C., & Hill, C. E. (1996). The current state of empathy research [Electronic version]. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43(3), 261-274.

Eisenberg, N. (2005). The development of empathy-related responding [Electronic version]. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 51, 73-117.

Suggested Readings

Current Research & Empathy Development Projects


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