True Empathy: A Physical Sensation | Psychology Today

Understanding the neurobiology of empathy By Claudia M. Gold, M.D. …


I thought of this moment when listening to Francine Lapides, in her terrific course Keeping the Brain in Mind ( which I refer to in a previous post How to Grow a Child’s Brain) explain the neurophysiology of empathy. It was an “aha” moment for me. Empathy is a commonly used word in mental health, and I admit to having used it for years without really appreciating its meaning.


Empathy, she explained, is largely mediated by a structure called the insula. It is predominantly a right brain structure that connects to the visceral organs-the heart and intestine. It also connects the brain with the skin and mediates sensations of touch and temperature. It is responsible for what is commonly referred to as a “gut feeling.” Empathy, then, in its truest form, means to literally feel what another person is feeling.