Empathy is a word used in defining experiences in different dimensions. Emotional researchers normally define empathy as an individual’s ability to sense the emotions of other people, together with the capability of imagining what another person might be feeling or thinking.
Contemporary researchers have often given two types of empathy: affective empathy and cognitive empathy. To start with, affective empathy is used when referring to the feelings and sensations that are achieved in response to the emotions of other people. These responses can comprise of mirroring the feeling of another individual, or in other cases just getting stressed after detecting another individual’s anxiety or fear. Cognitive empathy, which is also referred to as “perspective taking” is used to refer to an individual’s ability to understand and identify the emotions of other people. According to different researchers, individuals suffering from autism spectrum disorder have difficulties in empathizing (Daltry et al, 617).
According to Daltry, Mehr, Sauers, and Silbert (618), empathy is said to have a deep background in our bodies and brains as well as our evolutionary history. Empathy elementary forms have been experimented from the primate relatives, for example, in rats and dogs. Consequently, empathy has been related with two diverse brain pathways, whereby scientists have made speculations that showed that some features of empathy have traces in the mirror neurons, which are cells located in the brain that fire on observing another individual carry out an action in a similar way they can fire if given an opportunity to perform the same action themselves. Daltry et al. (619), uncovered genetic evidence based on empathy suggesting that individuals can restrict or enhance their natural abilities of empathy through their brain cells abilities. For a fact, having empathy does not essentially mean that a person wants to assist someone in need; nevertheless, it is often a crucial first step to the actions of compassion.
Empathy, in some cases, can hinder social actions or differently, result to amoral actions. For instance, a witness of car accident overwhelmed by passion seeing the victim suffering in severe pain may fail to help the victims. Likewise, a strong feeling of empathy for own family members or our racial or social group might result in aggression or hate towards those we see as a threat (Daltry et al, 620). To explain this point, think about a father or a father giving protection to their children or a patriot protecting their native country.
Interestingly, individuals having high psychopathic traits normally give more utilitarian replies during moral dilemmas like footbridge problem. In showing empathy, in this situation, an individual is faced with the decision of either pushing one person off the bridge so as to stop a moving train about to cause an accident and kill five people. This act is called the utilitarian philosophy that involves saving five people’s lives by having to kill one person. However, no researcher has ever argued that people with psychopathic tendencies are extra moral compared to normal individuals.
In agreement with Daltry et al. (621), empathy is regularly measured using self-report questionnaires like Questionnaire for Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE) or Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). These questionnaires typically ask individuals to show the degree of their agreement with measuring statements of different kinds of empathy. Notably, cognitive empathy is generally determined using the QCAE through adding value on statements like “I try to consider every person’s side during a disagreement before making any decision.” With the use of QCAE, people have a higher grey matter in the anterior insular part of the brain (Daltry et al, 621). This region is engaged in regulating negative and positive emotions through integrating stimulants from the environment with automatic and visceral bodily sensations.
Nonetheless, as documented by Daltry et al. (621), people typically show more empathy to members of their group; from the same ethnic group. For instance, when watching people in pain from our own ethnic group, the anterior cingulated brain area, often active on seeing other people in pain is more active when watching people from our ethnic group compared to members of a different ethnic group.
Besides, different scholars have stated that brain areas associated with empathy are less activated while seeing individuals suffering who may be acting in an unfair manner. Noteworthy, brain areas activation due to empathy may be in relation to subjective pleasure, for instance, while watching the failure of a rival team of sports or during a ventral striatum. These behaviors of the brain on activation towards acts of empathy have corresponded to the daily lives observations. Generally, people are more excited when own members of a group win in an activity, although individuals are unlikely to hurt others because they come from a different race, culture, or group. Markedly, in-group bias as a result of empathy is more on in-group love compared to out-group hate.
Succinctly, the empathetic brain has developed to be vastly adaptive to various kinds of situations. Having and showing empathy is useful as it always helps in understanding other people so we can deceive or help them, however, sometimes we are required to be in a position to switch off our feelings of empathy in protecting our lives and those of other people.
Daltry, Rachel M., et al. “Examining the Relationship between Empathy for Others and Self-Compassion in College Students.” *Educational Research and Reviews*, vol. 13, no. 17, Sept. 2018, pp. 617–621.