A new University of Virginia study, published in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience reveals some fundamental characteristics of human empathy.
The study suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves.
James Coan, from the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves.
“The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.” Coan said.
He also stated that “if a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.” This is perhaps the source of empathy, and part of the evolutionary process, according to Coan.
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