Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-jb2ch Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-23T08:59:41.224Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Empathy, Simulation, and Narrative

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2012

Shaun Gallagher*
University of Memphis (USA) and University of Hertfordshire (UK) E-mail:


A number of theorists have proposed simulation theories of empathy. A review of these theories shows that, despite the fact that one version of the simulation theory can avoid a number of problems associated with such approaches, there are further reasons to doubt whether simulation actually explains empathy. A high-level simulation account of empathy, distinguished from the simulation theory of mindreading, can avoid problems associated with low-level (neural) simulationist accounts; but it fails to adequately address two other problems: the diversity problem and the starting problem. It is argued that a narrative approach to empathy obviates all these problems and offers a more parsimonious account.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Baillargeon, Renée, Scott, Rose M., and He, Zijing. 2010. “False-belief understanding in infants.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14 (3):110118.Google Scholar
Boltanski, Luc. 1999. Distant Suffering: Politics, Morality and the Media. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bretherton, Inge, Fritz, Janet, Zahn-Waxler, Carolyn, and Ridgeway, Doreen. 1986. “The acquisition and development of emotion language: A functionalist perspective.” Child Development 57:529548.Google Scholar
Bruner, Jerome and Kalmar, David A.. 1998. “Narrative and metanarrative in the construction of self.” In Self-Awareness: Its Nature and Development, edited by Ferrari, M. and Sternberg, R. J., 308331. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Carruthers, Peter. 2009. “Mindreading underlies metacognition.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32:164176.Google Scholar
Carolyn, Catmur, Walsh, Vincent, and Heyes, Cecilia. 2007. “Sensorimotor Learning Configures the Human Mirror System.” Current Biology 17 (17):15271531.Google Scholar
Chouliaraki, Lilie. 2006. The spectatorship of suffering. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Csibra, Gergely. 2005. “Mirror neurons and action observation. Is simulation involved?” ESF Interdisciplines. (last accessed 29 April 2012).Google Scholar
Decety, Jean. 2005. “Une anatomie de l'empathie.” Psychiatrie, Sciences Humaines, Neurosciences 3 (11):1624.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean. 2004. “Empathie et mentalisation à la lumière des neurosciences sociales.” Neuropsychiatrie: Tendances et Débats 23:2535.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean. 2003. “L'empathie ou l’émotion partagée” [Empathy: Sharing emotions]. Pour La Science 309:4651.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean. 2002. “Naturaliser l'empathie” [Empathy naturalized]. L'Encéphale 28:920.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean and Grèzes, Julie. 2006. “The power of simulation: Imagining one's own and other's behavior.” Brain Research 1079:414.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean and Jackson, Philip L.. 2004. “The functional architecture of human empathy.”Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews 3 (2):71100.Google Scholar
De Jaegher, Hanne, Di Paolo, Ezequiel, and Gallagher, Shaun. 2010. “Does social interaction constitute social cognition?Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14 (10):441447.Google Scholar
de Vignemont, Frédérique and Jacob, Pierre. (2012). “What is it like to feel another's pain?Philosophy of Science 79 (2):295316Google Scholar
de Vignemont, Frédérique and Singer, Tania. 2006. “The empathic brain: How, when and why?Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10:435441.Google Scholar
Dinstein, Illan, Thomas, Cibu, Behrmann, Marlene, and Heege, David J.. 2008. “A mirror up to nature.” Current Biology 8 (1):R13R18.Google Scholar
Fisher, Justin C. 2006. “Does simulation theory really involve simulation?Philosophical Psychology 19 (4):417432.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2001. “The practice of mind: Theory, simulation, or interaction?Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (5–7):83107.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2004. “Understanding interpersonal problems in autism: Interaction theory as an alternative to theory of mind.” Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 11 (3):199217.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2005. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2007. “Simulation trouble.” Social Neuroscience 2 (3–4):353–65.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2008. “Neural simulation and social cognition.” In Mirror Neuron Systems: The Role of Mirroring Processes in Social Cognition, edited by Pineda, Jaime A., 355–71. Totowa NJ: Humana Press.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2011a. “Narrative competency and the massive hermeneutical background.” In Hermeneutics in Education, edited by Fairfield, Paul, 2138. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun. 2011b. “In defense of phenomenological approaches to social cognition: Interacting with the critics.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology. Published online first: DOI 10.1007/s13164-011-0080-1.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun and Hutto, Daniel. 2008. “Primary interaction and narrative practice.” In The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity, edited by Zlatev, Jordan, Racine, Timothy P., Sinha, Chris, and Itkonen, Esa, 1738. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun and Cole, Jonathan. 2010. “Dissociation in self-narrative.” Consciousness and Cognition 20:149155.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio. 2001. “The ‘shared manifold’ hypothesis: From mirror neurons to empathy.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 8:3350.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio. 2003. “The roots of empathy: The shared manifold hypothesis and the neural basis of intersubjectivity.” Psychopathology 36:171180.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio. 2005. “‘Being like me’: Self-other identity, mirror neurons and empathy.” In Perspectives on Imitation, edited by Hurley, Susan and Chater, Nick, 101118. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio. 2009. “Motor abstraction: A neuroscientific account of how action goals and intentions are mapped and understood.” Psychological Research 73 (4):486–98.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio and Goldman, Alvin. 1998. “Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12:493501.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin I. 1989. “Interpretation psychologized.” Mind and Language 4:161185.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin I. 2002. “Simulation theory and mental concepts.” In Simulation and Knowledge of Action, edited by Dokic, Jérôme and Proust, Joëlle, 119. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin. 2005a. “Mirror Systems, Social Understanding and Social Cognition.” Interdisciplines. (last accessed 30 May 2005).Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin. 2005b. “Imitation, mind reading, and simulation.” In Perspectives on Imitation II, edited by Hurley, Susan and Chater, Nick, 7993. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin. 2006. Simulating minds: The philosophy, psychology and neuroscience of mindreading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin. 2011. “Two routes to empathy: Insights from cognitive neuroscience.” In Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Coplan, Amy and Goldie, Peter. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/ac prof: 050/9780199 5399 56.003.0004.Google Scholar
Goldman, Alvin I. and Sripada, Chandra S.. 2005. “Simulationist models of face-based emotion recognition.” Cognition 94:193213.Google Scholar
Gordon, Robert M. 1996. “‘Radical’ simulationism.” In Theories of Theories of Mind, edited by Carruthers, Peter and Smith, Peter K., 1121. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Grezes, Julie and Decety, Jean. 2001. “Functional anatomy of execution, mental simulation, observation, and verb generation of actions: A meta-analysis.” Human Brain Mapping 12:119.Google Scholar
Gutsell, Jennifer N. and Inzlich, Michael. 2010. “Empathy constrained: Prejudice predicts reduced mental simulation of actions during observation of outgroups.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (5):841845Google Scholar
He, Zijing and Baillargeon, Renée. 2011. “False-belief understanding in 2.5-year-olds: Evidence from change-of-location and unexpected-contents violation-of-expectation tasks.” Developmental Science 14:292305.Google Scholar
Heal, Jane. 1996. “Simulation, theory and content.” In Theories of Theories of Mind, edited by Carruthers, Peter and Smith, Peter K., 7589. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Herschbach, Mitchell. 2007. “The phenomenological critics of folk psychology: The case of false belief.” Paper presented at the Berkeley-Stanford-Davis Graduate Student Conference, 14 April 2007.Google Scholar
Hogan, Robert. 1969. “Development of an empathy scale.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 33:307316.Google Scholar
Howe, Mark L. 2000. The Fate of Early Memories: Developmental Science and the Retention of Childhood Experiences. Washington: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
Hurley, Susan. L. 2005. “Active perception and perceiving action: The shared circuits model.” In Perceptual Experience, edited by Gendler, Tamar and Hawthorne, John, 205259. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hurley, Susan L. 2008. “The shared circuits model. How control, mirroring, and simulation can enable imitation and mindreading.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (1):122Google Scholar
Hutto, Daniel D. 2008: Folk Psychological Narratives: The Socio-Cultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Jacob, Pierre. 2008. “What do mirror neurons contribute to human social cognition?Mind and Language 23 (2):190223.Google Scholar
Jacob, Pierre. 2011. “The direct perception model of empathy: A critique.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (3):519540.Google Scholar
Jeannerod, Marc and Pacherie, Elizabeth. 2004. “Agency, simulation, and self-identification.” Mind and Language 19 (2):113–46.Google Scholar
Keysers, Christian and Gazzola, Valeria. 2006. “Towards a unifying neural theory of social cognition.” Progress in Brain Research 156:383406.Google Scholar
McIntyre, Alestair. 1981. After Virtue. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
Merleau Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Smith, Colin. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Nelson, Katherine. 1992. “Emergence of autobiographical memory at age 4.” Human Development 35:172177.Google Scholar
Nelson, Katherine. 2003. “Narrative and the emergence of a consciousness of self.” In Narrative and Consciousness: Literature, Psychology, and the Brain, edited by Fireman, Gary D., McVay, Ted E. Jr. and Flanagan, Owen J., 1736. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Nelson, Katherine. 2009. “Narrative Practices and Folk Psychology: A Perspective from Developmental Psychology.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 16 (6–8):6993.Google Scholar
Newman-Norlund, Roger D., Noordzij, Matthijs L., Meulenbroek, Rudd G.J., and Bekkering, Harold. 2007. “Exploring the brain basis of joint attention: Co-ordination of actions, goals and intentions.” Social Neuroscience 2 (1):4865.Google Scholar
Perner, Josef. 1992. “Grasping the concept of representation: Its impact on 4-year-olds’ theory of mind and beyond.” Human Development 35:146155.Google Scholar
Richner Elizabeth, S. and Nicolopoulou, Ageliki. 2001. “The narrative construction of differing conceptions of the person in the development of young children's social understanding.” Early Education and Development 12:393432.Google Scholar
Rizzolatti, Giacomo, Fogassi, Leonardo, and Gallese, Vittorio. 2001. “Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the understanding and imitation of action.” Nature Review Neuroscience 2:661670.Google Scholar
Ruby, Perine and Decety, Jean. 2001. “Effect of subjective perspective taking during simulation of action: a PET investigation of agency.” Nature Neuroscience 4 (5):546–50.Google Scholar
Ruffman, Ted and Perner, Josef. 2005. “Do infants really understand false belief? Response to Leslie.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9 (10):462–63.Google Scholar
Shanton, Karen and Goldman, Alvin. 2010. “Simulation theory.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. (last accessed 21 February 2010).Google Scholar
Slovic, Paul. 2007. “If I look at the mass I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide.” Judgment and Decision Making 2:7995.Google Scholar
Small, Deborah A., Loewenstein, George, and Slovic, Paul. 2007. “Sympathy and callousness: Affect and deliberations in donation decisions.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 102:143153.Google Scholar
Southgate, Victoria, Chevallier, Coralie, and Csibra, Gergely. 2010. “Seventeen-month-olds’ appeal to false beliefs to interpret others’ referential communication.” Developmental Science 13 (6):907912.Google Scholar
Stueber, Karsten R. 2006. Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk-Psychology and the Human Sciences. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Stueber, Karsten R. 2008. “Reasons, generalizations, empathy, and narratives: The epistemic structure of action explanation.” History and Theory 47 (February):3143.Google Scholar
Stueber, Karsten R. 2012. “Varieties of empathy: Neuroscience and the narrativist challenge to the contemporary theory of mind debate.” Emotion Review 4 (1):5563.Google Scholar
Luca, Surian, Caldi, Stefania, and Sperber, Dan. 2007. “Attribution of beliefs by 13-month-old infants.” Psychol Science 18 (7):580586.Google Scholar
Dan, Zahavi. 2011. “Empathy and direct social perception: A Phenomenological Proposal.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (3):541558.Google Scholar
Zahavi, Dan and Overgaard, Søren. 2011. “Empathy without isomorphism: A phenomenological account.” In Empathy: From Bench to Bedside, edited by Decety, Jean, 320. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Zahn-Waxler, Carolyn and Radke-Yarrow, Marian. 1982. “The development of altruism: Alternative research strategies.” In The Development of Prosocial Behavior, edited by Eisenberg, Nancy and Berlin, Harry, 109138. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Zahn-Waxler, Carolyn, Radke-Yarrow, Marian, Wagner, Elizabeth, and Chapman, Michael. 1992. “Development of concern for others.” Developmental Psychology 28:126136.Google Scholar