From actions to empathy and morality

9042 Words37 Pages
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 77 (2011) 76–85

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Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jebo

From actions to empathy and morality – A neural perspective
Istvan Molnar-Szakacs a,b,c,∗ a b c Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

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Article history:
Received 15 July 2009
Received in revised
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E-mail address: imolnar@ucla.edu.
0167-2681/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2010.02.019 I. Molnar-Szakacs / Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 77 (2011) 76–85

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The aim of the current paper is to review and summarize recent research on the human MNS, asserting that this system may provide the neural scaffold for empathy and, as a result, may have served as a biological substrate for the evolution of our sophisticated sociality and the morality that governs it. Section 1 serves as the general introduction, Section 1.1 discusses neuroimaging evidence in support of the human MNS; Section 1.2 highlights the role of the MNS in understanding the intentions of others; Section 2 discusses a form of empathy termed ‘emotional empathy’, that is the feeling of other’s feelings, putatively through a resonance mechanism implemented by the human MNS; Section 2.1 discusses the relationship between
‘emotional empathy’ and ‘cognitive empathy’ – a form of mentalizing that relies on higher-level cognitive processes; Section
3 discusses developmental evidence on social evaluation and empathy for pain; Section 4 aims to link action perception to morality, using emotional empathy and social evaluation as stepping stones, and Section 5 concludes.
1.1. The human mirror neuron system
Soon after the discovery of mirror neurons in the monkey brain using single-unit electrode recordings (di
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