Meaning & Theory of Empathy: -The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Contemporary researchers often differentiate between two types of empathy: “Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety.
“Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions. Empathy seems to have deep roots in our brains and bodies, and in our evolutionary history. Elementary forms of empathy have been observed in our primate relatives, in dogs, and even in rats. Empathy has been associated with two different pathways in the brain, and scientists have speculated that some aspects of empathy can be traced to mirror neurons, cells in the brain that fire when we observe someone else perform an action in much the same way that they would fire if we performed that action ourselves. Research has also uncovered evidence of a genetic basis to empathy, though studies suggest that people can enhance (or restrict) their natural empathic abilities.
Having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll want to help someone in need, though it’s often a vital first step toward compassionate action.It could be said that empathy begins with intuition and ends with prediction is which one person is able to predict the emotional responses of the other. The stages of empathy are intuition, connection, consideration, prediction and motivation.
The first stage of empathy involves one person naturally intuitive towards the other as with intuition of the other’s person’s emotions and feelings or thought processes, the next stage of empathy or a feeling of connectedness is established. The connection between two people naturally leads to a feeling of mutual consideration and the next stage of predicting each other’s responses. In some cases empathy could be mutual although in many cases as in a relationship between a therapist and her patient, the empathy could be one sided. After the connection is established and there is a deep sense of consideration for the other’s feelings, and an understanding as to why the person is feeling in a particular way, one person who empathizes with the other is able to move to the next stage of predicting the emotional responses.
Understanding the response patterns in other people is an essential part of connecting and relating to them closely and would definitely suggest the ability of being in the shoes of the other. The last stage of empathy deals with the more directional aspect as in the case of teacher or therapist there is a need to motivate or influence the other person following an empathetic connection. From a psychological point of view, empathy would involve fulfilling the safety and security needs of other individuals and also their love and belongingness needs. Importance of Empathy in Human Life: -In addition to the familiar cognitive intelligence measured by standard Intelligence Quotient tests, educators and psychologists now recognize the importance of other types of intelligence—emotional, social, and moral. All these intelligences play an important role in guiding a child toward a productive and satisfying life—one in which she or he can be a valuable member of society. Adults also benefit from empathy training. One study found that adults who were given empathy training expressed greater job satisfaction and were better at teamwork and empathy is not only about feeling; it is also about acting.
Young people trained to feel empathy for a group of needy people also were more likely to help the needy by approving money for a program that would assist them. We know a lot more today than we did thirty years ago about the importance of developing empathy in youth. We have learned that helping children develop empathy is good for them, and good for communities. Empathy is an important emotional resource linked to many positive psychological traits. Children who are empathetic also tend to be more resilient; they are better able to handle stress and “bounce back” from difficulties. Resilient individuals also are more confident and are able to make use of social support and find coping strategies when needed. Previously psychologists believed people perceived someone as a leader because they could perform complex tasks.
Now we know that the perception of someone as a leader is also influenced by his or her emotional skills. Empathy promotes “moral intelligence,” the capacity to understand right from wrong and the ability to act on that understanding. A morally intelligent person makes decisions that benefit not only herself but also others around her. Research: -A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy. This could explain why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.
Criminals with psychopathy were transported to the Social Brain Lab of the University Medical Center in Groningen (The Netherlands). There, the researchers used high-field functional magnetic resonance imaging to peak into the brain of criminals with psychopathy while they view the emotions of others.The study, included 18 individuals with psychopathy and a control group, and consisted of three parts. All participants first watched short movie clips of two people interacting with each other, zoomed in on their hands.
The movie clips showed one hand touching the other in a loving, a painful, a socially rejecting or a neutral way. At this stage, they were asked to look at these movies just as they would watch one of their favorite films. Next, the participants watched the same clips again. This time, however, the researchers prompted them explicitly to empathize with one of the actors in the movie. In the third and final part, similar hand interactions were performed with the participants themselves, while they were lying in the scanner, having their brain activity measured. The researchers wanted to know to what extent they would activate the same brain regions while they were watching the hand interactions in the movies, as they would when they were experiencing these same hand interactions themselves.When asked to just watch the film clips, the individuals with psychopathy activated their mirror system less. Regions involved in their own actions, emotions and sensations were less active than that of controls while they saw what happens in others.
At first, this suggested that psychopathiccriminals might hurt others more easily than we do, because they do not feel pain, when they see the pain of their victims. The second part of the study revealed that instead of generally activating their mirror system less, individuals with psychopathy didn’t use this system spontaneously, but they could use it when asked to. When explicitly asked to empathize, the differences between how strongly the individuals with and without psychopathy activate their own actions, sensations and emotions almost entirely disappeared in their empathic brain. The brain data suggests, that by default, psychopathic individuals feel less empathy than others. If they try to empathize, however, they can switch to ’empathy mode’.Development of Empathy in Adolescence: -In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.
“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict. Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.
The findings reflect a major expansion in researchers’ understanding of cognitive growth during adolescence, according to a 2012 research review co-authored by Ronald Dahl, a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Researchers used to believe that both forms of empathy were fully formed during childhood. Now, it’s clear that “the brain regions that support social cognition, which helps us understand and interact with others successfully, continue to change dramatically” in the teens, says Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon inEugene.
Preliminary research in her lab also suggests cognitive empathy rises in teens. The discoveries serve as a new lens for exploring such teen behaviors as bullying and drug abuse. Kids who develop affective and cognitive empathy form healthy relationships and argue less with their parents, research shows. Perspective-taking continues to be central for adults on the job, helping in designing and selling products and services, building user-friendly devices, and working smoothly with others with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds. Affective empathy is grounded in the limbic region of the brain, which regulates emotions. This capacity begins developing in infancy when parents respond sensitively to babies’ emotions.
Children learn to practice empathy by watching their parents and by experiencing it themselves—being treated well by adults who respond warmly to their feelings. Cognitive empathy arises from a different part of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, which continues developing later, through adolescence. But the two are linked; children’s affective empathy predicts their level of cognitive empathy as teens, says a forthcoming study by Caspar Van Lissa, a doctoral candidate at Utrecht’s adolescent-research center. Adolescents’ brains work particularly hard on perspective-taking; teens make heavier use than adults of the medial prefrontal cortex, says Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London.
That may be because understanding others’ viewpoints takes more conscious effort for teens, while it becomes automatic for adults, Dr. Blakemore says. Perspective-taking continues to develop through age 21. The decline in affective empathy among young teenage boys may spring at least partly from a spurt during puberty in testosterone, sparking a desire for dominance and power, says the study in Developmental Psychology. Boys who were more mature physically showed less empathy than others.Bibliography: -•http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition•http://www.futurehealth.org/populum/page.php?f=The-Psychology-of-Empathy-by-Saberi-Roy-100620-281.html•http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/abuse/empathy-connection.pdf•http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304561004579137514122387446•http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130724200412.htm