2006-01-12

Empathy

News release from the Society for Neuroscience:

KEY SCIENTIFIC STUDIES ON EMPATHY AND OUR BRAINS SHED LIGHT ON THIS UNIVERSAL FEELING AND ITS EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOR

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2005 — New research is offering fascinating insights into what happens to our brains when we empathize with the feelings of others. Such research supports the concept of “maternal love” and suggests neurological reasons for monogamy. It also promises to lead to a greater understanding of depression and neurological disorders characterized by a deficit of empathy, such as autism and schizophrenia.

“At this time when conflicts among groups of people across the world are increasingly threatening individual safety, it is more important than ever that we understand what drives human social interactions,” says Elizabeth Phelps, PhD, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University. “The ability to empathize with others promotes greater bonding and less hostility. This collection of studies starts to explain how the brain enables empathy and the individual factors that may moderate this response.”

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And from the New York Times:

Cells That Read Minds

The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.

"We are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."

He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."

The discovery is shaking up numerous scientific disciplines, shifting the understanding of culture, empathy, philosophy, language, imitation, autism and psychotherapy.

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Dr. Robert Hare maintains an excellent Page for the Study of Psychopaths, a disorder involving empathy.

Controversy about its legal defence and treatment is heavily influenced by this trend in new discoveries.

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