Sunday, December 4, 2016

Interesting and important research findings about compassion and empathy - and the differences between them.

The following quote is the conclusion of an essay which attempts to tease out the neurological and philosophical differences between empathy and compassion. Exploring this is a support in our ongoing zazen life of Wisdom Compassion.

"Empathy training led to increased activation in the insula and cingulate cortex, the same parts of the brain that would be active if you were empathizing with the pain of someone you care about. Compassion training led to activation in other parts of the brain, such as the ventral striatum, which is involved in, among other things, reward and motivation.

These studies also revealed practical differences between empathy and compassion. Empathy was difficult and unpleasant—it wore people out. This is consistent with other findings suggesting that vicarious suffering not only leads to bad decision-making but also causes burnout and withdrawal. Compassion training, by contrast, led to better feelings on the part of the meditator and kinder behavior toward others. It has all the benefits of empathy and few of the costs.

These results connect nicely with the recent conclusions of Paul Condon and his colleagues, published in the journal Psychological Science in 2013, who found that being trained in meditation makes people kinder to others and more willing to help (compared with a control condition in which people were trained in other cognitive skills). They argue that meditation “reduces activation of the brain networks associated with simulating the feelings of people in distress, in favor of networks associated with feelings of social affiliation.” Limiting the impact of empathy actually made it easier to be kind.

I don’t deny the lure of empathy. It is often irresistible to try to feel the world as others feel it, to vicariously experience their suffering, to listen to our hearts. It really does seem like a gift, one that enhances the life of the giver. The alternative—careful reasoning mixed with a more distant compassion—seems cold and unfeeling. The main thing to be said in its favor is that it makes the world a better place."

Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion,” which will be published next week by Ecco.

The full article isat the link below: