I Feel Your Pain: All About Empathy

Friday, April 18, 2014

Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, and Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, and tell us what empathy is, how we develop it, what happens when people don’t develop it, and empathy’s role in human psychology, behavior, and relationships.

If you have questions about empathy, leave it as a comment, below!


Paul Bloom and Leslie Jamison

Comments [18]

Empathy is a choice; we will to extend or withhold to another[s].Even psychopaths who the shrinks tell us do not experience empathy, do show empathy to those they choose too; relatives, pets or others.So this notion that they just lack an empathy "gene"[or the proper neural connections] is false. It's a decision. Just like when we who abhor torture when committed by other governments came to believe in it after 9-11. What changed? Our desire to withhold empathy for the suffering of people we wanted to torture.That it was to obtain information to keep us safe is not sufficient to explain our sudden desire to torture. Revenge, the desire to make people suffer was/is at the heart of it; if you talk to the average person ,they would acknowledge that. It was not a lack of knowledge, like ignorance that they too suffer, but a willful choice to not care about their suffering under torture. Empathy is a decision to extend or withhold based on our likes and dislikes. You're barking up the wrong tree in telling us that some people simply don't experience it. It's a conscious choice ,not a feeling.

Apr. 22 2014 10:11 AM

I called in to the show but it was too late to get on the air. I wanted very much to make some very important distinctions regarding terms and ideas that were shared. As a Dr. of Counseling I am very much interested in these very important distinctions. Firstly empathy is not an emotion, it is a cognitive state which allows one to experience and understand logically what another's emotional state is. There is a clear distinction between self and other. Allison's daughter, has anxiety disorder which actually interferes with empathy. What she was describing is more akin to emotional contagion where one takes on the feeling of another as though they were their own. This is stress producing and needs to managed. It is very common among healthcare professional who experience burnout. Also, not everyone is capable of experiencing empathy which is a high order cognitive and neurological construct. Many disorders actually hinder empathy such as Autism spectrum disorders, and many Personality Disorders. Furthermore, empathy is often, and erroneously, used synonymously with sympathy which is quite different and more feeling oriented than state oriented. Empathy is a mental state, not a feeling. Empathy can only be learned as a natural development of healthy mental states. It's probably good that I didn't get air time because I could go on forever about this very important topic.

Apr. 19 2014 08:54 AM
Ariel from Montclair Nj

Increased globalization seems to necessitate empathy as a skill for this generation. I wonder how we can educate and foster the development empathy in individuals within schooling. Has the value of group dialogue or philosophical conversations in the classroom been vonsidered toward this end? If imagination and listening are key aspects of empathy then it seems like opprotunities for caring and creative thinking is essential.

Apr. 18 2014 01:57 PM
Kate from Hamilton Heights

Sometimes I think that a cultural lack of empathy is the result of fear - such as, i don't want to imagine that I could be in that person's situation. Is that right?

Apr. 18 2014 01:56 PM

I completely understand Allison's daughter. When I was growing up, I too cried whenever anyone hurt or felt fear or pain. As I grew up, I learned that all that empathy took away from the one person who deserved it: me! I never took time for myself or took care of myself. After a few mental break downs, deep introspection and amazing mentors, I became a health care worker and have learned to exercise my boundless empathy in a safe and helpful way.

Apr. 18 2014 01:54 PM
Anny from Nj

Why sympaty in spanish means the oposite? Simpatico is a smilling and funny person

Apr. 18 2014 01:51 PM
brooklynmom78 from Brooklyn

I agree with the idea that empathy can get in the way of rational decision making, justice, and logic often.

Interestingly enough, I think certain psych studies have been done that show that people who scored very highly on levels of empathy were also the most cruel and vicious in other situations. It seems to be a double edged sword that predisposition towards passionate behavior also translated into passionate brutality.

Apr. 18 2014 01:50 PM
Dave from Brooklyn, NY

I'm curious as to the correlation between mirror neurons and empathy. And are republicans generally lacking in mirror neurons?

Apr. 18 2014 01:46 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

When I follow the news, I actively try to suppress empathy so I don't relate too closely to people who have horrible things happen to them. Today's news of the ferry tragedy in Korea is a good example. I can't bear to dwell on the feelings of the drowned children or their families.

Apr. 18 2014 01:45 PM
Andrew Campbell from Putnam County, NY

Munchousan by proxi

Apr. 18 2014 01:40 PM

MyFacebook mini-bio states "Empathy is a virtue...not a slur"
I am horrified how popoular culture extoles the "survivor" mentality
with brutal competition to be admired. I believe that it has enhanced the ectreme Right wing's belief in unfairly classing people into 'Makers" and "takers" one deserves empathy... winner take all. and I remember the confirmaton hearings for Sotamayer being rife with Fear that she might be empathetic... sad

Apr. 18 2014 01:36 PM
Opal S from Upper West Side NYC

Question. I am an activist who empathizes with people who have suffered injustices. I have been called on occasion "a bleeding heart." I usually don't brag about what I am doing so what am I doing wrong?

Apr. 18 2014 01:33 PM
Kay Gagliardo from Lindenhurst

Please help me understand why so many people laugh when others hurt themselves.

Apr. 18 2014 01:31 PM
frances from Manhattan

I wonder why J.G. sees primal instincts as "less than." In fact, most of our behavior is traced to our biological development and origins - I don't that makes such behavior less valuable or worthy of admiration. Self-serving is not the same as selfishness. Unless you bring religion into things, in which case "goodness" and such things as empathy are not instinctual at all - they must be drummed into us!

Apr. 18 2014 01:30 PM
Roxanne from Brooklyn

My husband and I are divorcing. He has all of the traits consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and admits that if he feels empathy, it is only on the margins. For instance, if he hears about a crime he only feels sadness if he imagines the crime happening to him. As we consider custody arrangements, how much should I worry that lack of empathy alone makes him a danger to our infant son?

Apr. 18 2014 01:28 PM
John A

The popularity of empathy in popular culture definitely waxes and wanes. Look at how often the term 'schadenfreude' is used. Another indicator might be the 'Darwin Awards' which had a cruel view of humanity. And there are many antiheroes on television right now.
Could the guests agree that we might be living in a fairly anti-empathetic time?

Apr. 18 2014 01:03 PM
Marc Weiner from Stamford, CT

Thank you for your program on empathy. Have you heard about Nonviolent Communication(NVC)? Please visit my website
Thank you,

Apr. 18 2014 12:57 PM
Jane Gennaro from NYC

Hello to Leslie Jamison. Bought the book and love how you describe empathy as ''the dowdier cousin of impulse".
as " a choice we make to pay attention, to extend ourselves."

But how much of the exertion do you think is actually a primal extinct? A survival technique we inherit —despite ourselves?

Apr. 18 2014 11:07 AM

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