The Roles of Imagery and Mimicry in Sympathy

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


The most difficult question to answer about sympathy is “Why?” Why would people willingly make themselves unhappy? Why would people do for others what they would actively avoid for themselves? There are at least two possible answers to this question—one biological, the other sociological. The biological explanation maintains that a concern about the welfare of others improves the genetic fitness of the whole species (Hamilton, 1964a,b 1972; Kropotkin, 1955; Schopenhauer, 1965; Wilson, 1975). Sympathy has survival value, and if we do not help, we hurt. The urge to help others, however, must compete with the drive for self-preservation, which is generally regarded as stronger than the concern for others. For this reason, many argue that altruism needs some social support from social norms. The normative explanation rests on the assumption that in most cultures one is expected under appropriate conditions to help others in distress. Thus the evolutionary and the normative explanations are not mutually exclusive.


Conditioned Stimulus Skin Conductance Mental Imagery Visual Imagery Facial Muscle 
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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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