Empathy with strangers can be learned

We can learn to empathize with strangers, researchers from the University of Zurich have suggested in their latest study. Surprisingly, positive experiences with people from another group trigger a learning effect in the brain, which increases empathy. The researchers conclude that merely a handful of positive learning experiences could suffice for a person to become more empathic.

Surprising behavior influences learning
Psychologist and neuroscientist Grit Hein teamed up with Philippe Tobler, Jan Engelmann and Marius Vollberg to measure brain activation in participants who had had positive experiences with a member of their own group (in-group member) or another group (out-group member).

During the test, the participants expected to re-ceive painful shocks to the backs of their hands. However, they also discovered that a member of their own or another group could pay money to spare them pain. The brain activation while observing pain in a person from one’s own or another group was recorded before and after these experiences.