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Biven, L. Panksepp, J. (2007). Commentary on “Toward a Neuroscience of Empathy: Integrating Affective and Cognitive Perspectives”. Neuropsychoanalysis, 9(2):141-146.
   

(2007). Neuropsychoanalysis, 9(2):141-146

Commentary on “Toward a Neuroscience of Empathy: Integrating Affective and Cognitive Perspectives” Related Papers

Lucy Biven and Jaak Panksepp

Emotion-Cognition Mind/Brain Interpenetration in Empathy

Douglas Watt is well aware of the difficulties inherent in the neuroscientific study of higher-order emotions, as he provides the most extensive integration, to date, for understanding brain substrates of empathy. He emphasizes that empathy, like all affective cognitions, lies at the intersection of consciousness and emotion. Just as there are different emotions and levels of individual emotional complexities (from primary to tertiary processes), there are different levels of empathic feelings and consciousness. Watt develops an argument hypothesizing that deep empathy is fundamentally an emotional function, based largely on a social-engagement and attachment cluster of emotions (LUST, PLAY, CARE/NURTURANCE, and PANIC/SEPARATION DISTRESS: here we will simply use the original designators CARE and PANIC for the nurturance and separation-distress systems respectively), secondarily honed by the defense cluster (FEAR, RAGE, and disgust), all elaborated by higher cognitive consider-ations.

Watt explains that empathy interdigitates with attachment systems for the following reasons:

1.   Empathy prevents us from hurting people we love, and this maintains the integrity of attachments.

2.   Empathy helps to protect us from the anguish of broken attachments: since humans are profoundly social creatures, we are vulnerable to the ravages of loss. Perhaps empathy evolved as a buffer against the misery of loss, providing a means of comfort.

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