Empathy and the Disunity of Vicarious Experiences

By Pierre Jacob

Abstract What makes one individual’s experience vicarious is that it is both similar to, and caused by, another’s psychological state. Vicarious responses are mediated by the observation of another’s goal-directed or ex- pressive action. While the evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests the ubiquity of vicarious responses toothers’ goals, intentions, sensations and emotions, the question is: is the general function of vicarious responses to understand another’s mind? In this paper, I argue for a dual view of the function of vicarious responses: while empathetic responses are other-directed, contagious responses are self-centered.

KEYWORDS: Empathy; Vicarious Responses; Action; Self; Otherness.