Jean Decety

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Jean Decety
Dr. Jean Decety - University of Cape Town, South Africa, February 2012.jpg
Born 1960
Residence Chicago, United States
Nationality French and American
Fields Cognitive neuroscience, Developmental neuroscience, Social neuroscience
Institutions University of Chicago (Professor)
Alma mater Université Claude Bernard, Lyon; France
Notable students Sarah-Jayne Blakemore[1]
Known for

Jean Decety is an American and French neuroscientist specializing in developmental neuroscience, affective neuroscience, and social neuroscience. His research focuses on the cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms underpinning social cognition, particularly emotion, empathy, moral reasoning, altruism, pro-social behavior, and more generally interpersonal processes. He is Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago.


Jean Decety obtained three advanced master's degrees in 1985 (neuroscience), in 1986 (cognitive psychology), and in 1987 (biological and medical engineering science) and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1989 (neurobiology) from the Université Claude Bernard. After receiving his doctorate, he worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Karolinska Hospital (Sweden) in the Departments of Neurophysiology and Neuroradiology. He then joined the National Institute for Medical Research (INSERM) in Lyon (France) until 2001.

Decety is currently professor at the University of Chicago and the College, with appointments in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the Director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, and the Child NeuroSuite, and the co-director of the Brain Research Imaging Center at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Decety is a member of the Committee on Computational Neuroscience and the Center for Integrative Neuroscience and Neuroengineering.

Editorial activities[edit]

Decety served as the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal Social Neuroscience between 2006 and 2012, and he is on the editorial boards of Development and Psychopathology, The European Journal of Neuroscience, The Scientific World Journal, Frontiers in Emotion Science, and Neuropsychologia. With his colleague John Cacioppo, Decety played an instrumental role in the creation of the Society for Social Neuroscience in 2010.

Empathy, Moral reasoning and Psychopathy[edit]

Decety conducts research and teaches on various aspects of empathy, including its evolutionary origins,[2][3] its development in young children,[4] as well as how the experience of empathy is modulated by social context and interpersonal relationships.[5][6] Decety also investigates atypical socioemotional processing and moral judgment in criminal psychopaths.[7]

Decety also studies the development of moral reasoning and how emotion and cognition contribute to moral behavior and motivation for justice.[8][9][10] He argues that empathy is not necessarily a direct avenue to moral behavior, and that it can lead to immoral behavior.[11] The influence that empathy and justice exert on one another is complex, and empathy can induce partiality and threaten justice principles.[12] Based on empirical research combining functional neuroimaging and individual differences in personality traits, Decety argues that in order to promote justice motivation, it may be more effective to encourage perspective taking and reasoning to induce concern for others than emphasizing emotional sharing with the misfortune of others.[13][14]

Edited books[edit]

  • The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective (2015). J. Decety and Thalia Wheatley (Eds). Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • New Frontiers in Social Neuroscience (2014). J. Decety and Y. Christen (Eds). Berlin: Springer.
  • Empathy - from Bench to Bedside (2012). J. Decety (Ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience (2011). J. Decety and J.T. Cacioppo (Eds.). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (2009). J. Decety and W. Ickes (Eds.). Cambridge: MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Interpersonal Sensitivity: Entering Others' Worlds (2007). J. Decety and C.D. Batson (Eds.). Hove: Psychology Press.


  1. ^ Blakemore, S.; Decety, J. (2001). "REVIEW: From the perception of action to the understanding of intention". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2 (8): 561–567. doi:10.1038/35086023. PMID 11483999. 
  2. ^ Decety, J. (2011). The neuroevolution of empathy. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1231, 35-45.
  3. ^ Decety, J., Norman, G. J., Berntson, G. G., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). A neurobehavioral evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms underlying empathy. Progress in Neurobiology, 98, 38-48.
  4. ^ Decety, J. (2010). The neurodevelopment of empathy in humans. Developmental Neuroscience, 32, 257-267.
  5. ^ Decety, J., Echols, S. C., & Correll, J. (2010). The blame game: the effect of responsibility and social stigma on empathy for pain. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 985-997.
  6. ^ Cheng, Y., Chen, C. Y., Lin, C. P., Chou, K. H., & Decety, J. (2010). Love hurts: an fMRI study. NeuroImage, 51, 923-929.
  7. ^ Decety, J., Chen, C., Harenski, C. L., & Kiehl, K. A. (2013). An fMRI study of affective perspective taking in individuals with psychopathy: imagining another in pain does not evoke empathy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 489.
  8. ^ Cowell, J. M., & Decety, J. (2015). The neuroscience of implicit moral evaluation and its relation to generosity in early childhood. Current Biology, 25, 1-5.
  9. ^ Li, Y., Li, H., Decety, J., & Lee, K. (2013). Experiencing a natural disaster alters children’s altruistic giving. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1686-1695.
  10. ^ Yoder, K. J., & Decety, J. (2014). The good, the bad, and the just: Justice sensitivity predicts neural response during moral evaluation of actions performed by others. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(12), 4161-4166.
  11. ^ Decety, J., & Cowell, J. M. (2014). Friends or foes: Is empathy necessary for moral behavior? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 525-537.
  12. ^ Decety, J., & Cowell, J. M. (2014). The complex relation between morality and empathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(7), 337-339.
  13. ^ Decety, J., & Yoder, K. J. (2015). Empathy and motivation for justice: Cognitive empathy and concern, but not emotional empathy, predicts sensitivity to injustice for others. Social Neuroscience, epub ahead of print.
  14. ^ Yoder, K., J., & Decety, J. (2014). Spatiotemporal neural dynamics of moral judgments: A high-density EEG/ERP study. Neuropsychologia, 60, 39-45.

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