The Antiquity of Empathy

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 874-876
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220999

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The view of humans as violent war-prone apes is poorly supported by archaeological evidence and only partly supported by the behavior of our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Whereas the first species is marked by xenophobia, the second is relatively peaceful and highly empathic in both behavior and brain organization. Animal empathy is best regarded as a multilayered phenomenon, built around motor mirroring and shared neural representations at basal levels, that develops into more advanced cognitive perspective-taking in large-brained species. As indicated by both observational and experimental studies on our closest relatives, empathy may be the main motivator of prosocial behavior.

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