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    No moss growing on me Giggly's Avatar
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    Default Can empathy be learned?

    What I mean is, can someone who is not naturally empathetic learn how to become empathetic?

    I kind of think they can learn but only if they see their own deficit and want to learn without seeking any other gains.

    What do you think?

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    I agree. Like anything that doesn't come naturally, I think people have the power to improve their skills. Without seeing a need for change and possessing a desire to change, though, it will not happen. A learned empathetic person may not ever be as natural and skilled as a someone who is empathetic by nature, but I think that someone could become quite good with enough awareness and practice.
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    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Absolutely it can be learned.

    The only question is if it is learned consciously or subconsciously - much of it is learned by anyone, but for some it isn't an intentional learning process, but just how their family operated or something. I think there are also some instinctual aspects to it like a strong mothering/nurturing instinct makes someone more naturally aware. I am required to have empathy for some of my jobs, and so I work at it very intentionally and with significant effort. I think this has helped me progress with it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Giggly View Post
    What I mean is, can someone who is not naturally empathetic learn how to become empathetic?

    I kind of think they can learn but only if they see their own deficit and want to learn without seeking any other gains.

    What do you think?
    First of all we should define empathy.

    If you mean cognitive empathy, i.e. knowing/understanding what the other person is experiencing: yes

    This can definitely be learned by careful observation. Psychopaths train themselves to read others. People with Asperbergs can learn it, as far as I know.

    If you mean affective empathy, i.e. having a (socially) appropriate emotional reaction to another person's emotions, sharing their emotions: probably not

    I think the latter has a lot to do with mirror neurons. Not sure how much of a fixture their strength is, i.e. if you are born with very active mirror centers or if they develope as they are trained.
    My hunch is that a good part of it is either hardwired or set at an early age.



    It's funny you should mention this as I have long been wondering about the relationship not only between affective empathy and mirror neurons but also between those two and Fe/Fi
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    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Giggly View Post
    What I mean is, can someone who is not naturally empathetic learn how to become empathetic?

    I kind of think they can learn but only if they see their own deficit and want to learn without seeking any other gains.

    What do you think?
    Giggly, I think this is the key. I don't think you can effectively practice empathy if you're trying to game it.

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    Vaguely Precise Seymour's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Herring View Post
    First of all we should define empathy.

    If you mean cognitive empathy, i.e. knowing/understanding what the other person is experiencing: yes

    This can definitely be learned by careful observation. Psychopaths train themselves to read others. People with Asperbergs can learn it, as far as I know.

    If you mean affective empathy, i.e. having a (socially) appropriate emotional reaction to another person's emotions, sharing their emotions: probably not
    While I generally agree with your brought points, I think I do disagree a bit here. I think there are people who are emotionally cut off from themselves (often losing a good deal of bodily awareness) because of emotional trauma or ongoing emotional stress. Such people are perfectly capable of being emotionally aware and practicing affective empathy, but cannot consciously access that level of emotional awareness. Such people can, I think learn affective empathy.

    Plus, I think it likely that even those with a limited amount of affective empathy can learn to attend to it more and learn to see it as a valuable resource.

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Herring View Post

    I think the latter has a lot to do with mirror neurons. Not sure how much of a fixture their strength is, i.e. if you are born with very active mirror centers or if they develope as they are trained.
    My hunch is that a good part of it is either hardwired or set at an early age.
    I suspect it's like most things... how good you are at something depends upon inherent skill, training, practice and other life experiences (external feedback, critical growth periods).


    Quote Originally Posted by Red Herring View Post
    It's funny you should mention this as I have long been wondering about the relationship not only between affective empathy and mirror neurons but also between those two and Fe/Fi
    And what would you say associates with what?

    F7 vs T5

    I think it's interesting that as for as the neocortex goes, there are two "mirror neuron" regions (using Nardi's terms):

    F7 - "Imaginative Mimic" - Mirroring other's behavior, imaginatively entering into other situations and "what if" scenarios

    T5 - "Sensitive Mediator" - Noticing and responding to social cues, wondering how others evaluate you, being embarrassed

    I think F7 sounds kind of Ne (with a little F/Fi flavor, as far as mirroring), and T5 sounds somewhat Fe. Nardi did find that FJ was associated with T5, and Ne with F7. But the T5 association was a little more complex (see below).

    Regardless, I do think it's interesting that mirror neurons are divided into who separate regions, both of which might relate to empathy in different ways.

    Nardi and T5 (an aside)

    T5, the region of the neocortex related to attending to social feedback and feeling ashamed/embarrassed, is used heavily by Fe types (and seems to be an obvious fit for at least some qualities we associate with Fe).

    Conversely, ISTPs tended to show the least activity in T5, with some ISTPs never showing any activity in the region no matter how embarrassing the situation in the lab. INTPs generally showed low activity in T5 as well. However, when that region finally activated for INTPs in the lab, it tended to spill over into neighboring speech and movement centers (which may be one reason why most of us, regardless of type, get clumsy and tongue-tied when embarrassed).

    T5 is also used by heavily by male FPs, but far less so by female FPs... but what does that mean (Nardi didn't speculate on that, that I recall)? Could it mean that male FPs tend to feel more socially constrained than female FPs (and so perhaps are less likely to be visibly quirky)? Do male FPs learn to blend socially for some reason (social pressure)?

    Of course, some studies have also shown that men tend to use T5 for facial recognition, which might explain a greater use of T5 in male FPs.

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    Senior Member cafe's Avatar
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    I don't know that it can, at least not past early to mid childhood. Or rather, a person who hasn't learned empathy by that age is unlikely to ever be motivated to learn it for its own sake. If you have a basic level of empathy, you can work to improve it. And some folks have more of a capacity for it by nature than others. More is not always better or more functional.

    I think it is super important to try to teach empathy to young children and to treat them with empathy so that their capacity for it is developed. They can be emotionally crippled otherwise.
    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ~ John Rogers

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    Unapologetic being Evolving Transparency's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Giggly View Post
    What I mean is, can someone who is not naturally empathetic learn how to become empathetic?

    I kind of think they can learn but only if they see their own deficit and want to learn without seeking any other gains.

    What do you think?
    I certainly am someone that isn't. And I certainly do now.

    I was not born with the natural ability to empathize.

    I have to force myself to do this.

    I am only naturally empathetic with things that I have experienced

    Like I'm more naturally apt to feel empathy for someone that has a fallen off a bike than someone that has tried to commit suicide.

    suicide Reasons, and opinions on it, put aside....

    I simply have never felt the feeling of "I want to die"

    I HAVE however felt the feeling of falling off of a bike...that shit hurts.

    So basically I have to work 10x as hard to put myself in that persons shoes when it comes to emotional or physical pain.

    I hate it.

    Emotional pain being the more difficult one...because even if I do have a down day ...my wing of 7 doesn't let me get too depressed.

    -----

    You are correct...it's only if the person wants to learn and can see that it's actually a flaw...not an attribute.

    I only began even trying to feel empathy towards others because I realized I was a hypocrite...

    I wanted others to listen to me...but I didn't listen to others very well.

    That, and I always am trying to improve myself.
    "Once the game is over, the Pawn and the King go back into the same box"

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    Let me count the ways Betty Blue's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seymour View Post
    I think it's interesting that as for as the neocortex goes, there are two "mirror neuron" regions (using Nardi's terms):

    F7 - "Imaginative Mimic" - Mirroring other's behavior, imaginatively entering into other situations and "what if" scenarios

    T5 - "Sensitive Mediator" - Noticing and responding to social cues, wondering how others evaluate you, being embarrassed

    I think F7 sounds kind of Ne (with a little F/Fi flavor, as far as mirroring), and T5 sounds somewhat Fe. Nardi did find that FJ was associated with T5, and Ne with F7. But the T5 association was a little more complex (see below).

    Regardless, I do think it's interesting that mirror neurons are divided into who separate regions, both of which might relate to empathy in different ways.

    Nardi and T5 (an aside)

    T5, the region of the neocortex related to attending to social feedback and feeling ashamed/embarrassed, is used heavily by Fe types (and seems to be an obvious fit for at least some qualities we associate with Fe).

    Conversely, ISTPs tended to show the least activity in T5, with some ISTPs never showing any activity in the region no matter how embarrassing the situation in the lab. INTPs generally showed low activity in T5 as well. However, when that region finally activated for INTPs in the lab, it tended to spill over into neighboring speech and movement centers (which may be one reason why most of us, regardless of type, get clumsy and tongue-tied when embarrassed).

    T5 is also used by heavily by male FPs, but far less so by female FPs... but what does that mean (Nardi didn't speculate on that, that I recall)? Could it mean that male FPs tend to feel more socially constrained than female FPs (and so perhaps are less likely to be visibly quirky)? Do male FPs learn to blend socially for some reason (social pressure)?

    Of course, some studies have also shown that men tend to use T5 for facial recognition, which might explain a greater use of T5 in male FPs.
    This is super interesting, were there any more tests and or results within this study?.. If so...new thread maybe?


    Edit: For this thread.... Can empathy be lost/unlearned?... I do believe it can be learned infact I think most of us do learn it, slowly as we grow... some may be inherent but it's mostly learnt imo. There is debate regarding when is the point of no return...age-wise to be taught empathy if the individual has been deprived/neglected in ways
    "We knew he was someone who had a tragic flaw, that's where his greatness came from"

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    Vaguely Precise Seymour's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HelenOfTroy View Post
    This is super interesting, were there any more tests and or results within this study?.. If so...new thread maybe?


    Edit: For this thread.... Can empathy be lost/unlearned?... I do believe it can be learned infact I think most of us do learn it, slowly as we grow... some may be inherent but it's mostly learnt imo. There is debate regarding when is the point of no return...age-wise to be taught empathy if the individual has been deprived/neglected in ways
    There's a whole thread here: Dario Nardi's Neuroscience of Personality. There's also a NeuroPQ tes which tries to get at strengths related to brain regions, but it's pretty subjective.

    As far as learning empathy: I wouldn't be surprised if there were critical development periods of some kind, but it does seem like aspects can be learned later in life by many.

    This thread does remind me of an amusing story told by a coworker of attending a management session empathy. Most of other managers attending were hard-driving sales managers, and my coworker got to experience them trying to fumble their way through exercises on responding empathetically to their direct reports. They were utterly flummoxed by most of the exercises, and could not figure out how my coworker could figure out the "right" responses.

    @Inari Love, that sounds like a fair amount of 7-ish self-awareness. Often 7s have no conscious idea that they have difficulty being empathetic about (or experiencing their own) emotional pain. I salute you making efforts in that direction. Experiencing the negative tends to feel overwhelming for 7s.

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