Rats may not be, well, such rats after all. In the first study of its kind, researchers show that rats engage in empathy-driven behavior, helping to free a trapped cagemate for no reward other than relieving its fellow rat’s distress. Rats chose to help each other out of traps, even when a stash of delicious chocolate chips was on the line.
But what about compassion and empathy? Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy for those stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering; empathy is the ability to share in another's emotions, thoughts and feelings. Hence, a compassionate judge would tend to base his or her decisions on sympathy for the unfortunate; an empathetic judge on how the people directly affected by the decision would think and feel.
Fearlessness was measured by observing reactions to various fright-inducing situations: separation from parents, the roar of a vacuum cleaner, a jack-in-the-box and the like. Those who displayed greater levels of fearlessness, the study found, had no trouble recognizing facial expressions of anger, surprise, happiness and sadness in other children -- but they had a hard time identifying fear.
Over all, they were "emotionally shallow" and showed lower levels of empathy. They took advantage of friends and lacked regret over inappropriate conduct.
Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can indeed be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.
Without empathy, we would have no cohesive society, no trust and no reason not to murder, cheat, steal or lie.
People diagnosed as psychopathic have difficulty showing empathy, just like patients who have suffered frontal head injury. This has been shown in a new study from the University of Haifa. "Our findings show that people who have psychopathic symptoms behave as though they are suffering frontal brain damage," said Dr. Simone Shamay-Tsoory, who conducted the study.
Researchers from the University of Toronto and Duke University in Durham, N.C., say studies suggest doctors fail up to 90 per cent of the time to respond to emotional cues from their patients.
"Empathy is the ability to understand another's experience, to communicate and confirm that understanding with the other person and to then act in a helpful manner," the authors write in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
But in practice, doctors "infrequently articulate" empathetic responses, they say.
Lack of empathy underlies the worst things human beings can do to one another; high empathy underlies the best. Social work can almost be seen as an organized manifestation of empathy-to such an extent that social work educators and practitioners sometimes take it for granted. We propose that a targeted and structured explication of empathy is an extremely useful, if not essential, foundation for all social work theory and practice.
What do we know about the distribution of empathy within the human population? Baron-Cohen has proposed, with increasing scientific support, that women are generally more empathic than men, and that this relates to differences in brain architecture and neural circuitry between the sexes.
Empathy is such a basic ingredient of the human experience that even babies exhibit it, crying when other children cry or reacting to the facial expressions of adults and parents. Yet the word itself is relatively new: It didn’t enter the English lexicon until the early 1900s, derived from the German word einfühlung, according to Daniel Batson, a researcher of empathy and professor emeritus at Kansas University.
The ability to be culturally empathic is of great significance in many ways.
First, it is the prerequisite and assurance for effective cultural communication. Empathy leads us not only to experience the feelings of another but also to reflect on those feelings and compare them to our own. Only when one truly understands what the other is thinking and behaving, can he be able to get access to ideal communication.