The Role of Faces and Places in the Arousal of Sympathy

  • Lauren Wispé
Part of the Perspectives in Social Psychology book series (PSPS)


In this chapter we will consider the possibility that sympathy is instigated by two factors: the perception of negative faces and the situational constraints within which they are perceived. This analysis of the instigation of sympathy puts us in good company, for Adam Smith himself struggled with a similar problem. Smith’s explanation (of engaging sympathy) (1759/1982b) was deceptively simple: It is merely by “changing places in fancy with the sufferer” (p. 48) that one is able to sympathize with that person. But that is not all there is to it, and Smith was not clear whether sympathy is aroused by imagining oneself as the other person, or whether it involves imagining oneself in that person’s situation, or both. To put it another way, Smith was not clear whether one is to respond to dispositional or situational influences. His remarkably durable phrase, “by changing places in fancy with the sufferer” is followed by “we come either to conceive or to be affected by what he feels,” a phrase that seems to refer to a situational-cognitive or to an affective aspect. In one place Smith wrote that we must “enter as it were into [the sufferer’s] body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations” (1982, p. 48). This suggests an affective transference with the sufferer. However, Smith (1759/1982b) also wrote that sympathy “does not arise so much from the view of the passions, as from that of the situation which excites it” (p. 51), a statement in which he emphasizes the situational aspects that elicit sympathy, suggesting more cognitive dimension.


Situational Factor External Locus Facial Appearance Happy Face Facial Action Code System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren Wispé
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OklahomaNormanUSA

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