Can Empathy Be Learned? Two Habits Can Increase Your Awareness Of Others

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This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Natalie Engelbrecht.

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. [Definition of EMPATHY ]

Empathy is a habit that is a learned skill, and also innate. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York identified that the anterior insular cortex, is the activity center of human empathy, whereas other areas of the brain are not. Research also supports that it can be learned. Mindfulness has certain practices, such as Loving-Kindness, Forgiveness and Compassion, in which people can learn to develop or increase their empathy.

Children Empathy Response Children with a better grasp on emotional intelligence and sarcasm are more popular. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

According to research presented by Greater Good, there are habits that can increase our empathy.

Having Curiosity About Others…

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction.

Challenging Our Prejudices…

Below is an article Claiborne Paul Ellis wrote about why he quit the Clan. TL;TR: Claiborne was a poor white American, and the Cyclops of his local KKK, who was chosen to head a committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised, to discuss racial tensions in school. As he worked along side her, he saw that she struggled with many of the same issues he had, i.e. poverty, and by the en of the 10 days, he stood in front of everyone and torn up his KKK card. His article is here.

Even psychopaths have an empathy switch according to research. This allows them to turn empathy on and off at will. When placed in a MRI to observe their brains, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another, did not empathize with a person in pain until they were asked to empathise with the individual in pain. Their brains then looked like neurotypicals experiencing empathy.

Psychopaths show greater activation in the anterior insular cortex, which is involved in cognitive mentalizing, and empathy. This is an aspect of their that allows them to mimic people.

Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch - BBC News

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