How Empathetic Are You? Measure Your Empathy Levels

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Most people care about someone. But, some caring is closer to a personality trait than a learned emotion. This trait plays a bigger role in our socio-emotional stability than was first understood. Humans instinctively understand how others feel by observing body language and other cues. These cues are signals to our subconscious brains that we relate to the person giving out the cues. For example, some people start crying the second they see others crying. Curiously, this urge to cry is more like an emotional contagion. Most emotions need two processing parts: encoding and enacting. The ability to encode isn’t the same as enacting. Confused yet? Researchers found that feeling something for someone isn’t the same as taking action, and the two don’t always go together. Some complex traits are social cues that someone needs emotional support. Biologically, people need social interaction. This emotional connection can be used as an emotional bonding between individuals. Acting and doing something in such a way that helps people emotionally is called cognitive empathy. Everyone can practice cognitive empathy, but few can feel deep emotions at an empathetic level.

History Lesson

Empathy: Does it exist in animals?

Empathy, often seen as a uniquely human trait, is the capacity to understand and resonate with others' emotions. This emotional resonance, however, isn't exclusive to humans. From rodents to primates, the animal kingdom showcases instances that hint at a broader understanding of empathy.

In the animal world, empathy isn't just about recognizing distress in others but acting upon it, sometimes even at personal risk. For instance, rats, despite their unsavory reputation in human culture, have displayed behaviors suggesting empathy's evolutionary origins. In studies, rats would halt activities, like pressing a lever for food, if it meant another rat would receive a shock. This raised questions: Were these rats genuinely concerned for their peers, or merely acting out of self-preservation?

Recent neuroscience research has delved deeper into animal empathy. When a mouse sees another mouse getting shocked, it often freezes—a behavior seen as empathetic emotional "contagion." Intriguingly, the same neural circuits activated in the shocked mouse light up in the observer mouse's brain. This implies that the observer, at a neural level, feels as if they're experiencing the same distress.

The hormone oxytocin, known as the "love hormone," is pivotal in driving empathy and attachment. Integral to various social bonding behaviors, oxytocin levels surge, for instance, when a dog and a human share an affectionate gaze. Such discoveries highlight the profound emotional connections we share with animals and the universality of empathy.

While humans have long celebrated their empathetic abilities, it's evident that this trait isn't solely ours. As research continues, it underscores the shared emotional fabric uniting all living beings.

Did you know?

Psychopaths and the Crying Contagion

Contrary to popular belief, a psychopath isn't a serial killer. A more accurate description is a psychopathy is the polar opposite of extreme empathy. Some people feel too much for other people, and some don’t feel anything. Most people are somewhere in between.

Popular culture groups "psychopaths" and “sociopaths" into one group of dangerous men. Technically, if we put any label on a serial killer, it would be sociopathy, and it affects women too. Psychologists cannot diagnose psychopathy by referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) because it’s not there. The closest diagnosis is antisocial personality disorder, which includes a lack of empathy as one of the dominant symptoms. A sociopath doesn’t cry emotional tears. A psychopath can cry and, in fact, feel a range of emotions.

One crucial difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is the former will never catch what some researchers call a crying contagion. Known popularly as sympathy crying, some people cry when they see others cry. Have you ever been in a movie theater where some audience members cry because someone near them starts crying? This phenomenon is an empathic reaction because people are socio-emotionally connected to others.

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