Empathy

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.
— Dr. Stephen Covey, Author The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

 

What Is Going on in the Brain?

The right supramarginal gyrus ensures that we can decouple our perception of ourselves from that of others. When the neurons in this part of the brain were disrupted in the course of a research task, the participants found it difficult to stop from projecting their own feelings and circumstances onto others. The participants’ assessments were also less accurate when they were forced to make particularly quick decisions.
— Tania Singer, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

What Can Cause a Decrease in Empathy? 

  • Anxiety: When people are not properly managing anxiety, they are more likely to display egocentric qualities, probably in an effort to reduce anxiety (Warner, 2016). 
  • Medications: Not only do painkillers reduce your pain, but they also reduce your ability to feel empathy towards others (Barclay, 2016). 
  • Cognitive Impairment: When the brain is not functioning properly or we have to make quick decisions, there is usually a decline in empathy (Avrabos et al., 2013). 

Can Someone Increase Their Empathy Towards Others? 

Yes! 

  • Social psychologists Emanuele Castano, and PhD candidate David Kidd surveyed the empathetic response of individuals that read different genres. Individuals that are reading literary fiction more often show a higher ability to understand and to empathize with other people's thoughts and emotions (Chiaet, 2013).
  • Studies have shown that mindfulness meditations such as a 'loving-kindness meditation' can help rewire your brain so that you are better equipped to understand empathy through the subconscious. (Bergland, 2013). 
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Empathy is a very important quality in the sense that it helps us connect with people.  A lack of connectedness to the world is one of the biggest pre-cursors to depression, which shows just how vital empathy is to our mental well-being.


Sources:

Avrabos, C., Sotnikov, S. V., Dine, J., Markt, P. O., Holsboer, F., Landgraf, R., & Eder, M. (2013). Real-Time Imaging of Amygdalar Network Dynamics In Vitro Reveals a Neurophysiological Link to Behavior in a Mouse Model of Extremes in Trait Anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(41), 16262-16267. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.2397-13.2013

Barclay, R. S. (2016, June 03). Does Taking a Painkiller Make You Less Empathic Toward Others? Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/do-painkillers-make-you-less-empathic

Bergland, C. (2013, October 10). The Neuroscience of Empathy. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy

Chiaet, J. (2013, October 04). Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/

Lifehacker. (2017, February 3). The Important of Empathy [Video File] . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzPMMSKfKZQ

Warner, C. (2016, August 17). 7 Weird Facts About Empathy, Because It Depends On More Than You Think. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.bustle.com/articles/179154-7-weird-facts-about-empathy-because-it-depends-on-more-than-you-think