Understanding Others: What is behind the brain’s ability to empathize?

Empathy is a complex, multifaceted construct that refers to the “emotional and/or intellectual identification with another person” (Guralnik, 1992 in Berrol, 2006). The human ability to empathize has been called the “building block of our sociality and morality” (Iacobini, 2009).


According to Freud (1926), only through empathy are we able to understand another’s psychic life. Empathy reduces the distance between us and others, and facilitates social connectedness and coherence. As a measure of emotional intelligence, it is the crucial ingredient that makes for better leaders, physicians, and conversation partners. Importantly, empathy fosters emotional bonding – between parents and infants, between partners and friends, and between members of society as a whole.

What is empathy and why is it important, regardless of where we spent our childhood?