How Anxiety Reduces Empathy

A study suggests that stress and surprise can hurt your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

In a series of six studies with more than 1,300 total participants, researchers from universities including Harvard and Columbia induced anxiety, anger, disgust, surprise, or pride in participants by asking them to write about a past experience when they felt one of those emotions. … Then, participants were tested on perspective taking. …

Now more than ever, we need to train our empathy muscles. Consider trying these science-based practices, particularly if you’re prone to anxiety:

  • Active Listening: Listen better and express active interest in your conversational partner, making them feel heard and understood.
  • Shared Identity: Think of someone who is very different from you, and then try to imagine all the ways that you two are similar—seeing them as an individual, not an out-group member.
  • Mindful Breathing: Focus attention on your own breathing to cultivate awareness.

By Kira M. Newman