A mile in their shoes: understanding empathy

The human brain evolved to ensure our survival. One example of that survival instinct is our sense of competition – historically, it’s part of what drives us to wage wars over power and resources. But an equally powerful survival tactic is our ability to love and cooperate with others.

 

“A lot of times, that story never gets told,” says Karen Gerdes, a social worker at ASU. She is interested in empathy, which is the ability to perceive the world from other people’s points of view and to feel what they are feeling. Empathy is a complex emotion because it involves both unconscious, involuntary responses and conscious, cognitive processes. For example, suppose you’ve had a traumatic experience, like losing a loved one.

“You see someone else who is going through that experience, and your brain automatically starts firing as if it’s happening to you. That helps you to understand a little bit better about what that person is going through,” Gerdes says.

 

By Allie Nicodemo

 

 More about Karen Gerdes at

http://cultureofempathy.com/References/Experts/Karen-Gerdes.htm