mirror neurons

Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

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women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verbal communication.

This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Unless you are a sociopath everyone is capable of being empathic. There is even some research evidence that we possess a mirror neurone which plays a part in empathy and learning by imitation.

It may also explain the phenomenon of postural echo where two people in rapport with each other may unconsciously synchronise their movements.

There is also other evidence that may be a genetic component to empathy. Researchers in the US have discovered that people who inherit a particular version of oxytocin receptor, the bonding hormone, score significantly higher on tests of empathy, and react less strongly to stressful stimuli.

They point out that people who score lower can still be caring and empathetic individuals, and people can learn to develop more empathy. For example, people who read well-written novels are able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and that helps them to understand others’ perspectives.

And researchers at Strathclyde University found that children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. See “What doesn’t kill you, makes you”.

Students today, however, are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times. “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy.

Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems. At one point it seemed that emotional intelligence was at last being taken seriously in the last labour government.

In The Times at that time, an article about cabinet resignations said that Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell were given; “prominent communication roles to provide emotional intelligence and, according to aides, address Mr Brown’s communication weaknesses”. That those attempts failed is now history.

BTW If you want to check out how good you are reading NVC go to this BBC site

First posted on SGANDA in 2010

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Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Neurons

Mirror neurons in the brain fire both when you watch someone in pain and when you experience it yourself
Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research.

Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.

Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up.

Scientists,reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming.

The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their “empathy switch”, which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation.

a participant being slapped on the hand to localize brain regions sensitive to pain

The study

  • Placed in an fMRI scanner, 18 criminals with psychopathy and 26 control subjects were asked to watch a series of clips without a particular…

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Botox reduces empathy

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Over a year ago I posted “Body language and the B problem” and about some research by psychologists at Wisconsin-Madison University on the effect of Botox on interpersonal relationships.

This suggested that if you had a Botox treatment your inability to show appropriate emotions, especially sadness or empathy, would be interpreted as a lack of sympathy or interest. More interestingly it said it might actually slow down your own empathetic response.

Now Research at Duke University Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina has confirmed that as well as reducing frown lines Botox reduces a person’s ability to empathise with others. This is important for everyday interactions, particularly at work where we spend most of our time.

Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence as is managing your emotions but it seems Botox would make you appear to be over-controlling your emotions or that you are lacking in empathy. Already researchers are saying that Generation Me students are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 to 30 years ago.

The Duke University researchers talk about embedded cognition, which is the idea that our bodies reflect the way we think and feel. For example if you see someone in pain you wince and that sends a message to your brain about the pain. (This sounds a bit like the idea of mirror neurons). NB I suspect that this wouldn’t work if you were a psychopath.

The researchers were initially interested in the effect of Botox on romantic relationships and the effect on that when one person has been treated with Botox and becomes less empathetic.

Also the idea that long-married couples start to look alike because they have been copying each other’s facial expressions for so long. (Could the same apply to people who start looking like their pets?)

btw if you are interested in having Botox the trend now is to have preventative Botox before you actually develop any frown lines!