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Empathy and the human brain

Simon Baron-Cohen, Prof of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge, presents recent advances in our understanding of empathy.

Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, presents recent advances in our understanding of empathy – the capability to share another being's emotions and feelings – and its links with autism.

Empathy is the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. We now know quite a lot about which parts of the brain are used when we empathise and how empathy grows in typically developing children. We also know that hormones in the womb, specific genes, and your early environment all influence how much empathy you have. There are several ways in which one can lose one’s empathy, and this is clearly seen in psychiatric conditions such as personality disorders. However, there is one condition, autism, which not only entails difficulties with empathy but can lead to a talent in ‘systemising’. Systemising is the aptitude to spot patterns in the world. Why should losing your empathy render you better at systemising? And can aspects of empathy be taught if a child is having difficulty developing it? Does the discovery that there may be ‘genes for empathy’ imply that empathy is the result of our evolution?


Dr Simon Baron-Cohen | talks


Date and Time:

24 September 2010 at 7:45 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street
+44 20 74 09 29 92

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