Is Empathy Inherited or Taught? Listeners Respond

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Is empathy inherited? Is it taught? Dr. Perri Klass shared her thoughts and recent findings with the Takeaway and listeners are sharing their opinions.

Caroline from Detroit says: 

"I think empathy comes more naturally to kids and we have to be retaught it as we get older."

Bruce from the Florida Keys agrees: 

"Empathy like sociopathy is innate. you can't teach a sociopath to feel love. empathy is something, a love for some sort of human condition and sociopaths can't feel love. so if it isn't there to have the ability to feel than i don't believe you can teach it.”

And a listener from Detroit sums it up this way:

"I don't think anyone would teach their kids not to be empathetic, so I think it's inherited. As the oldest of eight kids I know some of us display more empathy than others, but empathetic is not the first word you'd use to describe any of us."

But another school of thought out there is that empathy is the something the brain learns from watching the moral actions of others.

Rob from Pittsburgh says: 

"I think empathy can only be taught, and it's got to be done not only by parents and immediate family members but society as a whole. When random acts of kindness are observed by developing individuals, it cultivates an inherent consideration of others feelings through an obligation to others."

Rachel from Eugene, Oregon, agrees: 

"I right now live with a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who is on the cusp of being an infant where all his needs were met immediately to being a little creature that can take care of some of his own needs himself. And empathy has to be taught to him otherwise he is the center of the universe, and why shouldn't he be, he's the cutest thing in the room."

And a listener from Denver says:

"Everything is taught to kids. Everything. The child who enjoyed watching lions eat people at the Roman coliseum was not evil, and the child who helps their family feed the poor is not necessarily pure of heart."

This is not one of those easy to resolve nature-nurture kinds of debates. And some listeners prefer to see things both ways.

Catherine from Portland, Oregon, says:

"I think that some children born into an environment lacking caring or that was hostile can learn empathy if that environment is changed and they are given consistent examples of empathy both toward themselves and others. i also think that some people are born inherently lacking the ability to empathize and will likely never be able to learn it.”

And Sarah writes on our Facebook page:

"Those of us who live with people who have autism can tell you that there are some for whom empathy is nearly impossible and others for whom empathy is so strong it overwhelms them. It's like the woman in Star Trek the Next Generation who reads the emotions in a room. It can be modeled to a certain extent but there is a neurological wiring component in there, too."

What do you think? Is empathy something we're born with? Is it something we're taught? Which plays a stronger role: nature or nurture?

Give us your take and your story: Call us 877-8-MY-TAKE, text START to 69866, tweet us, or write on our Facebook page.