An ecological approach to empathy

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Avram, Christa Michelle
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Psychology
Two restrictive habits of seeing currently dominate empathy research in psychology: 1. the vertical worldview, which assumes that the reality of behaviour lies in hidden levels; 2. dualism, which assumes a binary arrangement of organism and environment. The cognitivist perceptual model encourages these habits by explaining empathy as a brain-generated phenomenon that occurs in a private, mentally represented reality. This, I argue, is not a useful model for empathy, which presupposes context and connection. Instead, I propose an alternate model, James Gibson’s ecological approach, whose horizontal worldview and organism-environment mutuality encourage us to see organisms as processual, environmentally embedded ways of being. In this model, to empathize is to coexperience directly what the environment affords another’s way of being — an experience characterized, facilitated, and constrained by one’s ecological niche. Niches shape the affective dimension of coexperiencing; however, they can frequently be modified through collective action.
empathy , ecological psychology , perception , Empathy -- Research , Environmental psychology -- Research , Perception -- Research , Dissertations, Academic