Sympathy is an emotional reaction to another’s emotional state or welfare that is characterized by feelings of sorrow and concern for the other. Sympathy is often contrasted with personal distress, which is a self-focused, aversive emotional response to another’s emotional state or welfare where the goal is to terminate one’s own but not the other’s distress. Both sympathy and personal distress are emotional states that stem from empathy (the ability to understand and identify with the feelings of others), but sympathy is thought to be triggered by optimal levels of arousal in response to another’s distress, whereas personal distress is thought to be triggered by empathic overarousal. Sympathy is generally related to higher levels of prosocial behavior (e.g., helping), with the goal being to ...

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