Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, a kind of sympathizing with other human beings. The capacity to identify with the subjective experience of another is a uniquely human trait and one of our most enlightened aspects. It is the root of compassion and caring and, according to some cutting edge science, has beneficial effects on the brain.

The team of researchers at Monash University have identified two distinct types of human empathy; “Affective empathy” and “Cognitive empathy.” People who score highly for affective empathy are the types of people who have emotional reactions to the emotional states of others. They tend to be the type to react strongly to sad or scary movies or cry when others are crying. Those with a propensity toward cognitive empathy attune to the emotional states of others in a more logical way, like a clinical psychologist interviewing patients about their experiences.

Why are we talking about empathy?

When dealing with addiction treatment and recovery, we often face the very real issue of non-addicts having a lack of understanding for what it’s like to suffer an addiction. This barrier can be a wall between loved ones, not to mention the general lack of compassion in other conflicts in the world. These university researchers have discovered, however, that based on the differences in developed grey matter in the brains of empathetic individuals, that overall empathy can be learned or forgotten over time.

This means there is promising research on the horizon for teaching people to have greater empathy in a structured and scientific way. The world is so rife with judgement, hate, and a general lack of compassion that a bit more empathy in our repertoire can only help us achieve a more harmonious way of living together.

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