What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one's own. Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner. 

Although there may be individual differences in empathy based on genetic differences, research suggests it is possible to boost the capacity for empathic understanding. In recent years neuroscientists have advanced the concept of "mirror neurons," which are believed to enhance the capacity to display, read, and mimic emotional signals through facial expressions and other forms of body language. Mirror neurons may help individuals share emotional experiences and become more empathic toward others. The significance of mirror neurons remains in contention, however.

Can You Be Too Empathic?

Unlike sympathy, which means feeling sadness or pity for someone who is undergoing some type of hardship, empathy promotes selfless compassion and action on behalf of another person or group.

This sounds like a positive, ethical, and well-principled practice, but some people believe that having too much empathy can be detrimental to one's well-being and even to the world at large. Too much empathy can interfere with rational decision-making, causing people to lead with their hearts rather than their heads and lose a broader perspective or ignore potential long-term consequences of overly empathic behavior.


Altruism, Compassion Fatigue

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