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Empathy is the human ability to understand other people’s feelings. It can also be referred to as the propensity of human beings to share what other people feel (Hoffman 37). Studies on the physiological basis of empathy show that people often respond to stimuli in different ways.
The concept of empathy was originally considered as fiction, but people’s experiences have created an impelling force that has connected it to reality. Studies have also established that there is a relationship between empathy and physiology (Throop 16). Empathy has adverse effects on its victims if the feelings shared are sad or traumatizing. Most empathy victims require medical therapy in order to contain the effects (Goldie 40).
Photo 1: Friends being Empathic towards Each Other
Empathy is an emotional and social need that people desire to fulfill through interaction (Hollan 91). People experience empathy all the time. Studies indicate that empathy is a process that happens unconsciously in the brain. The most interesting aspect about the concept of empathy is that people observe and mirror the actions of other people through interaction despite the fact that they cannot tell when it happens (Goldie 60).
For example, people often feel happy and excited when those around them exhibit the same feelings. However, very few people have the knowledge of how that happens and when it occurs. Most people, who have had the ability to recognize a feeling of empathy, describe it as an expressive encounter. Empathic people also acknowledge that the experience is totally beyond human control. The reason for this is that it happens without awareness (Hoffman 47).
Photo 2: Children of Iraq showing their empathy towards victims of a calamity in Boston, USA
The physiological basis of empathy
Biologists and psychologists are yet to understand the concept behind empathy. Understanding the various body mechanisms and processes involved in bringing about the experience remains a broad research area (Hollan 100). However, a certain researcher identified mirror neurons as the body part through which people experience empathy (Kenneth 188).
Mirror neurons are part of the brain that helps a person to observe something and generate a quick reaction that mirrors what is happening. Through mirror neurons, someone has the ability to observe and unconsciously imitate the actions of other people (Throop 26). The mirror neurons were first studied using monkeys, which were put through a series of tests. Their behavior was closely monitored with special attention directed towards the role of the mirror neurons (Kenneth 188).
The basic concept behind mirror neurons and their role in enabling people to experience empathy is very simple (Kenneth 189). When people observe something, the body always triggers an internal response that mimics whatever one observes. This response often happens in the brain.
It does not depend on the physical state of an individual, as long as he or she has the ability to see and interpret the actions taking place (Kenneth 189). Empathy applies as a consistent and continuous process that happens every time someone sees something familiar or exciting. The researchers acknowledge the role of mirror neurons in justifying empathy as a real experience (Hollan 109).
Empathy relates to the lives of very many people who rely on the functions of mirror neurons to do their work. A good example is a baseball player. Baseball is a game played with a bat and a ball between two teams with nine players. One of the nine players on a baseball team catches a ball hit by their opponents (Kenneth 190). In such a situation, mirror neurons in the player’s brain become active from the moment the ball moves towards his or her direction.
The reaction of the player depends on the kind of facial expression displayed by a thrower, as well as the energy with which the player hits the ball (Kenneth 190). The player’s brain responds promptly to sounds when a ball is kicked, rolled, as well as instances when they hear players being instructed to make a move. The mirror neurons help the brain to interpret the observed actions and make the appropriate reaction (Throop 28).
Empathy refers to the human ability to understand other people’s feelings. It also refers to the basic need of human beings to share what other people feel (Throop 28). People have the ability to share feelings of others, especially those of sorrow or anguish without even noticing. People often respond to familiar and exciting stimuli generated by someone else the moment they have an encounter.
Empathy is an experience that promotes healthy social interactions between people, for their ability to show harmony towards others (Goldie 76). Research has identified mirror neurons as the body part that enable people to experience empathy. When people observe something, the body always triggers an internal response that mimics whatever one observes. People experience empathy all the time (Throop 28). However, studies indicate that it happens unconsciously in the brain.
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Goldie, Peter. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2011. Print.
Hoffman, Martin. Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice. New York: Cengage Learning, 2004. Print.
Hollan, Douglas. The Anthropology of Empathy: Experiencing the Lives of Others in Pacific Societies. California: CENGAGE, 2013. Print.
Kenneth, Clark. Empathy: A Neglected Topic in Psychological Research. American Psychological Association 35.2 (2002): 187-190. Print.
Throop, Jason. The Anthropology of Empathy: Experiencing the Lives of Empathy Victims. California: Springer, 2013. Print.