What is Empathy?

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one's own. Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner. 

Although there may be individual differences in empathy based on genetic differences, research suggests it is possible to boost the capacity for empathic understanding. In recent years neuroscientists have advanced the concept of "mirror neurons," which are believed to enhance the capacity to display, read and mimic emotional signals through facial expressions and other forms of body language. Mirror neurons may help individuals share emotional experiences and become more empathic toward others. The significance of mirror neurons remains in contention, however.

Can You Be Too Empathic?

Unlike sympathy, which simply means feeling sadness or pity for someone who is undergoing some type of hardship, empathy promotes selfless compassion and action on behalf of another person or group of people.

While this sounds like a positive, highly ethical and well-principled practice, some people believe having too much empathy can be detrimental to one's own well-being and even to the world at large. Too much empathy interferes with rational decision-making, causing us to lead with our hearts rather than by our heads, losing the broader picture or long-term consequences of overly empathic behavior.


Altruism, Child Development

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