What our Brain Tells Us About Our Ability to Empathize

You’re hard-wired for empathy, whether you like it or not.

More than two decades ago now, scientists made a discovery that fundamentally altered our understanding of empathy. While observing monkeys, they noticed that certain brain cells activated both when a monkey performed an action and when that monkey watched another monkey perform the same action.

It’s a scenario we’ve all probably experienced before: If we’ve seen someone stub her toe, or cut her finger, or fall off a bike, and winced because we could feel the pain ourselves. That wincing – that unconscious reaction – is caused by “mirror neurons” firing in our brains. And these same neurons fire whether the action happens to us or to someone we’re watching. By Michael Zakaras