Even though we tend to see the world through the prism of our own reflection, at the same time we are social creatures surrounded by other people and it’s crucial to our personal development, our relationship and society itself to try understand what other people are experiencing. This is the part where empathy comes in. In simple words, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. For years, psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers have attempted to solve the puzzle of empathy. Nowadays we already know that empathy is hardwired in our brain. Specific part of your brain called the right supramarginal gyrus helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people and is responsible for empathy and compassion. Furthermore, not that long time ago neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti first identified mirror neurons and said that these neurons could help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them. Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. So, when we see someone yawn we will often yawn in reply, and when we observe someone experiencing joy or pain, we experience the same sensation to a certain extent. However, these subconscious reflexes based into our brain are not enough to be truly empathic. In order to be empathic to the fullest degree we need to actively think beyond yourself. Several methods how to improve your empathy will be written in my next blog.
Inesa Lelyte is a Bachelor of Psychology student at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania. She is interested in the areas of neuropsychology and neuro-cognitive psychology. Inesa is an intern at Willingness.com.mt.