Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Martin Hoffman

Pending - in development



 "My long-term interest is social and emotional development, especially empathy, moral development, and the relation between the two. Included are certain affects/motives that result from the interaction of empathy, causal attribution and situational contexts: sympathy, guilt, empathic anger and feelings of injustice. Also empathy's role in clinical contexts: impact on treatment; vicarious traumatization in therapists; empathetic processes in depression. Of equal interest are the interaction of empathy and abstract moral principles such as justice; and the processes of interaction between affect and cognition in general."




Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice
By John C. Gibbs and Martin L. Hoffman

"Contemporary theories have generally focused on either the behavioral, cognitive or emotional dimensions of prosocial moral development. This volume provides the first comprehensive account of prosocial moral development in children. The book's focus is empathy's contribution to altruism and compassion for others in physical, psychological, or economic distress; feelings of guilt over harming someone; feelings of anger at others who do harm; feelings of injustice when others do not receive their due. Also highlighted are the psychological processes involved in empathy's interaction with certain parental behaviors that foster moral internalization in children and the psychological processes involved in empathy's relation to abstract moral principles."


Hillary has a point: In defense of empathy and justice
By John C. Gibbs and Martin L. Hoffman

"Yale psychologist Paul Bloom objected that we can’t actually do that (at least not as well as we think we can), especially when our neighbor is someone in a quite different situation or condition—say, a stressed-out single parent, a traumatically scarred war veteran, or an autistic child. Besides, declared Bloom, even if we could fully and accurately feel and see from another’s perspective, empathy is often too narrow and parochial to serve as a moral guide. Far less limited, Bloom asserts, is reason: specifically, the impartial principles and procedures of justice. We should “step back” from empathy and “apply an objective and fair morality,” a “dispassionate analysis” of distressing situations. Bloom has even declared that “empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.” "



  • Addresses Paul Blooms criticisms of empathy

  • “Though we could not possibly be the horse we are whipping, or the trapped and starved animal whose fur we are wearing, we can imagine such things well enough for moral purposes.”  Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit

  • "Morality is most objective and compelling when justice and empathy align"

  • "Empathy and justice have a deep partnership."

  • We have long been concerned with empathy’s limitations.

    • "narrow and parochial empathy can be." [The is the problem with being narrow and parochial, not a problem with empathy. Reason can be narrow and parochial.]

    • [They say students become overwhelmed and withdrew.  This is not a problem with empathy but with overwhelm and withdrawal. A problem with students not being able to stay present with empathy.]




Selected Publications

Hoffman, M.L. (In Press). How automatic and representational is empathy and why? Brain and Behavioral Sciences.
"The claim that empathy is both automatic and representational is criticized as follows:

  • (a) five empathy-arousing processes ranging from conditioning and mimicry to prospective-taking show that empathy can be either automatic or representational, and only under certain circumstances, both;

  • (b) although automaticity decreases, empathy increases with age and cognitive development;

  •  (c) observers' causal attributions can shift rapidly and produce more complex empathic responses than the theory allows."

Hoffman, M.L. (2001). A comprehensive theory of prosocial moral development. D. Stipek & A. Bohart (EDs.), Constructive and destructive behavior. (pp. 61-86). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Hoffman, M.L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Implications for caring and justice. New York: Cambridge University Press. (This book has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Serbian.)

Hoffman, M.L. (1997). Varieties of empathy-based guilt. In J. Bybee (Ed.), Guilt in children (pp.91-112). New York: Academic Press.

Hoffman, M.L. (1990). Empathy and justice motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 4, 151-172.

Hoffman, M.L. (1987). The contribution of empathy to justice and moral judgment. In N. Eisenberg and J. Strayer (Eds.), Empathy and its development (pp. 47-80). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hoffman, M.L. (1985). Affect, motivation, and cognition. In E.T. Higgins & R.M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Handbook of Motivation and Cognition: Foundations of Social Behavior. NY: Guilford, 244-280.

Hoffman, M.L. (1983). Affective and cognitive processes in moral internalization: An information processing approach. In E.T. Higgins, D. Ruble, & W. Hartup (Eds.), Social Cognition and Social Development: A Socio-Cultural Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 236-274.

Hoffman, M.L. (1982). Development of prosocial motivation: Empathy and guilt. In N. Eisenberg-Berg, (Ed.), Development of Prosocial Behavior. New York: Academic Press, 281-313.