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Mirror Neurons, Empathy, and the Other  

Marco Iacoboni

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. It extends also to the ability to understand and share the feelings of animals and fictional characters. Empathy is essential to properly function in social interactions. It is also typically higher for people who belong to one’s own social group and lower for people who belong to a different social group. Lack of empathy is associated with severe mental health conditions including psychopathy, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder. Empathy is a complex, flexible, adaptive, and nuanced function for navigating social settings that involves the interplay of multiple neural systems. A crucial neural system for empathy is the mirror neuron system, formed by cells with a variety of properties and the shared feature of being activated during the actions of the self and the perception of actions of other people. The mirroring of the actions of other people in one’s brain allows an understanding from within of the other’s intentions, motivation, and feelings.