Somatic markers and empathy

One kind of empathy is ‘automatic’ – it happens when we see someone in pain or happy. We respond despite ourselves.

An intriguing possible way to explain the connection is through somatic markers, as hypothesied by Damasio. Somatic markers are associations between particular situations or experiences and the affects or emotions they activate. Through repeated experience, somatic markers come to serve as mental processing shortcuts; the act of imagining, rather than experiencing, a similar situation reactivates the somatic marker response and its associated emotions, and influences behaviour (Damasio, 1999). In empathy, if I imagine your experience, my somatic markers (seem likely to) come into play and activate the emotions I have come to associate with that experience.

 

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