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Neuropsychological Approach to the Empathy Construct: Cognitive and Neuroanatomical Aspects

Keywords: Cognitive Empathy , Affective Empathy , Theory of Mind , Executive Functions , Neuroanatomical Substrates , Empathic Dysfunction

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Multidimensional models define Empathy as a construct that includes both affective (AE; affective empathy) and cognitive (CE; cognitive empathy) components. The aim of the present work is to present the ‘state-of-the-art’ regarding the association between Empathy and Executive Functions (EF) and to propose an integration of the ideas in this respect. To this end, a conceptual framework is adopted and a number of studies which conceive AE and CE as complementary but differentiated components from either a functional and a neurobiological point of view are thoroughly revised; the two components would be jointly activated during social interaction, but they might act separately as evident, for instance, in cerebral damage and in Psychopathology. From a multidimensional perspective, the relation Empathy - EF could be explain from the relation CE/Theory of Mind - EF, as well as by means of a model that acknowledge the influence of top-down processes - across executive functions - during the empathic process. Adopting a multidimensional view of Empathy is not only relevant from a functional point of view, but also for the diagnosis, assessment and comprehension of the empathic deficit in the neurological and psychiatric clinic.


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