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Philosophical Topics

Volume 47, Issue 2, Fall 2019

Emotion Regulation

Heidi L. Maibom
Pages 149-163

Empathy and Emotion Regulation

In this paper, I evaluate one of the most prominent accounts of how emotion regulation features in empathy. According to this account, by Nancy Eisenberg and colleagues, empathy develops into either personal distress or sympathy depending on the ability to regulate one’s empathic distress. I argue that recent evidence suggests (1) that empathic distress and sympathy co-occur throughout the empathic episode, (2) that a certain degree of empathic distress may be necessary for prosocial motivation, as high emotion regulation leads to loss of this motivation, and (3) that emotion regulation is not an unmitigated good since much of it is achieved by dehumanizing the sufferer or minimizing her pain. A fertile ground for further research, I suggest, is the role of up-regulation of sympathy.