[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[Aleader-dev] address@hidden: A Look at Empathy]
Joshua N Pritikin
[Aleader-dev] address@hidden: A Look at Empathy]
Wed, 30 Jul 2003 22:07:20 +0530
----- Forwarded message from "William L. Jarrold" <address@hidden> -----
Of mild interest...specifically check out the bit about empathy
below. Gotta run. More later.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2003 15:03:38 -0700
From: schafer <address@hidden>
SCHAFER AUTISM REPORT "Healing Autism:
No Finer a Cause on the Planet"
A Look at Empathy, Please!
[By Judy Foreman for the Boston Globe.]
A small baby who sees his father burst into tears suddenly starts
crying himself, his sad little face the very picture of misery. Is this
empathy? Or is it, as psychologist Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the
Center for Mind, Brain and Learning at the University of Washington in
Seattle, thinks, something less exalted, like emotional ?contagion?? A
slightly more evolved creature -- a toddler -- watches her mother wince and
yell ?Ouch!? after hitting herself with a hammer. The child suddenly picks
up a teddy bear and toddles over to give it to her mother.
Now, that's got to be empathy, right? After all, the child not only
knew, or seemed to know, what her mother was feeling, she had an
appropriately compassionate response.
But then, what about chimps? When two chimps fight, says Lisa A. Parr,
a research associate at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in
Atlanta, the loser is often consoled by a third chimp, who will walk up to
the victim and offer a kiss or a hairy arm around the shoulders. Sweet, just
like the toddler.
But do chimps, or toddlers for that matter, really understand what
they're doing? And if they do, are they acting from altruism, or a more
selfish desire to calm their fellow creature so that they feel less
distressed themselves? Empathy is what we all claim we want more of -- from
our spouses, our bosses, our friends and, perhaps especially, our harried
doctors. But what is it, exactly? Does it truly aid healing to be
understood? Do empathizers run the risk of burning out if they care too
much? And how, if empathy is such a good thing, can we get -- and give --
more of it? Empathy is nothing less than ?the unseen glue that holds
civilization together,? says Meltzoff.
From an evolutionary point of view, we're probably hardwired for
empathy, which confers ?selective advantage,? allowing the young -- and the
species -- to survive, says Dr. Steven Hyman, provost at Harvard University
and professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.
Indeed, ?if parents are not empathic, then that infant is at greater
risk of perishing,? says psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of
Empathy is important from a mental health point of view, too. The
inability to empathize is a hallmark of autism, a condition characterized by
social withdrawal. And sociopaths are dangerous in part because their lack
of empathy allows them to commit atrocious acts without remorse.
But understanding empathy can get tricky. For those, like Robert W.
Levenson, director of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at
the University of California at Berkeley, empathy comes in three forms.
?Cognitive empathy,? he explains by e-mail, is ?knowing what someone is
feeling.? This does not automatically imply kindness. ?I can know how you
feel and torture you, intensify the pain,? says Paul Ekman, a psychologist
at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, who
studies empathy and facial expressions.
?Emotional empathy,? says Levenson, is what most of us mean by the
term, ?feeling what someone is feeling.? And compassionate empathy is doing
something about it -- offering a teddy bear or a kiss.
The capacity for empathy probably grows, at least in part, out of a
baby's inborn ability to mimic facial expressions, theorizes Meltzoff.
Literally from the moment of birth, his work shows, a baby will stick out
his or her tongue while watching an adult do so, or mimic an adult's open
mouth or frowning face.
Through this mimicry, the infant constructs a worldview that says, in
essence, that other people are ?like me,? he says. Empathy, including the
sophisticated talent for treating others as you would like to be treated,
?builds on primitive imitation.? Ekman's work supports this idea, showing,
in fact, that merely imitating someone else's facial expression can elicit
that feeling in oneself. But Ekman's work also suggests that facial mimicry
is not absolutely necessary for empathy. His studies show that patients with
facial paralysis (Moebius syndrome) can nonetheless develop normal cognitive
and emotional empathy.
At the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at
Los Angeles, Dr. Marco Iacoboni, an associate professor, used a technique
called functional MRI to obtain brain images of people observing and
mimicking the facial expressions of others showing fear, surprise, disgust,
anger, sadness, and happiness.
He found that a specific set of circuits -- including a tiny,
island-shaped structure called the insula -- ?light up? whether people are
merely observing an emotion or trying to imitate it, although this response
is stronger when they're actively imitating.
This suggests, Iacoboni says, that ?some treatment based on imitation
might help people with emotional disorders like autism.? It also suggests
that ?the way you understand the feelings of others is through your own
body.? The trick, of course, is to do this without drowning in the other
person's feelings. A good psychotherapist, says Dr. Paul McHugh, a professor
of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, can experience a
patient's feelings as if they were his own, but without accepting the
For the rest of us, there are potential pitfalls. In some people,
experiencing another person's pain can lead to ?empathic over-arousal,? says
Nancy Eisenberg, regents professor of psychology at Arizona State University
in Tempe. In this unpleasant state, the focus then becomes one's own
feelings of stress rather than the other person's need. The over-aroused
person may have to leave the room or emotionally withdraw to feel better.
Empathy can even be too much for some people seemingly in need of it,
she says. ?Empathy could lead someone to feel they are being pitied,
especially if that person has a strong need to be autonomous.? But most of
the time, we all want more empathy, not less. After all, says Dr. Jonathan
Kolb, a psychoanalyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute,
?When you're feeling bad, nothing is as helpful as returning to that kind of
basic, bedrock caretaking.? ? Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
|[Prev in Thread]
||[Next in Thread]|
- [Aleader-dev] address@hidden: A Look at Empathy],
Joshua N Pritikin <=